Kutztown High School freshmen students won first place in the regional competition for National History Day on March 22. They will move on to the state competition on May 12 and 13 at Millersville University.
The theme this year was Rights and Responsibilities in History.
The winners were Emily Burch, Abbie Boyer and Hannah Walker, with their project “HUAC: The Government’s Contribution to a Ruthless, Godless and Crushing Conspiracy.” The project focused on the House Un-American Activities Committee seeking out communists in the states between the 1930s to the 60s, mainly targeting Hollywood figures.
“I was surprised when we won first because we procrastinated a lot,” said Walker.
When they began tossing around ideas for their project, they couldn’t think of an interesting topic they wanted to research more about, so their advisor suggested communism in Hollywood. While looking into the suggestion more closely, they all agreed it sounded like an intriguing topic to learn more about, and they began to delve into research to learn more.
“We tried to pick a topic that no one really knew too much about, so that way when the judges came around and looked at the exhibits, ours would stick out and they would want to know more about our topic,” said Walker.
The girls learned a lot about the importance of government intervention.
“The government does this to protect you, they’re not doing it to intentionally get you mad and creep through all your things,” said Burch. “They’re doing it to protect you because they don’t want any terrorism.”
“I attended a debate about the National Security Agency and it kind of changed my view,” said Walker. “I originally thought I don’t want the government going through my stuff and after the debate I was more ok with the fact that they were going through it.”
However, they also gained time management skills and learned how to work together in a group.
“We learned how to manage time and we learned on how to rely on each other,” said Walker. “It’s extremely time-consuming.”
Other extra curricular activities and a diverse schedule including track, dance, and participation in the musical made finding time to work on the project difficult.
“The week before regionals, we didn’t have anything on our board,” said Burch. “So three days before regionals we were working our butts off to get it done and we stayed until 10:30 on a Friday night and we finally got it done.”
Three middle school students also placed first at the competition. Alexander Lanyi, did an individual website titled “Lafayette pour la Liberté: Fighting for Rights, Compelled by Responsibility”, Samuel Arnold with his Junior Individual Performance on FBI break-in in Media, Pa., titled “’How Much is too Much?’ National Security vs. Personal Privacy and the Media, Pa. Break In”, and William Gow, with his Junior Group Exhibit, titled “Shifting Sands and European Lines: Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt.” These winner resulted in four gold medals for Kutztown School District students.
Last year, the groups that won first place at the Nationals were Senior group Trinity Hamm, Emily Reiss and Spencer Miller with their project “Adding More Oil to the Anti-War Fire: The Impact of the Tet Offensive Within and Beyond the Vietnam War”, and Junior Group Emily Burch, Abbie Boyer, Meredith Ache and Tyler Pensyl, with their project, “The Idea of a Conquerable West: The Maps of Lewis and Clark as a Turning Point in Westward Expansion.” The exhibits are on display at the Pennsylvania State Museum.
National History Day is an extra-curricular activity that students are able to get involved. According to Kutztown High School History Day advisor Amy Howard, both the district and Kutztown Education Foundation have supported NHD by providing funds for students to compete.
“Our students are learning advanced reading, writing and research skills, but they are also learning important life skills, such as managing time, effectively delegating tasks within a group and communicating with professionals,” said Howard.
She hopes the students gain both an understanding about the history of the United States, as well as skills in time management.
“I hope students leave this experience understanding how our past influences our future and appreciating the complexities of cause and effect,” said Howard. “In addition, I want them to be able to manage a long-term project, handle research roadblocks, and deal with their peers and outside resources professionally.”
“No matter how a project finishes in competition, it is important that our students have a deep sense of pride in their final product,” said Howard. “Every student’s journey is different.”
“I think the best part about the competition is the learning involved,” said Carolyn Wessner, NHD advisor to the muddle school students. “The students are learning how to think like historians.”
Wessner is a Kutztown High School graduate and competed in history day for five years.
“The motto for History Day is ‘it’s not just a day, it’s an experience’ and I think this quote sums up NHD,” said Wessner. “NHD shows students new skills and interests that they can carry with them from more than just a day.”