One of Huntington High School’s best performances ever at the National History Day Long Island regional finals at Hofstra University was capped off with a pair of research projects being tapped to advance to the State History Day finals in Cooperstown.
Huntington High School students won a long list of awards at the rigorous competition that drew more than 800 participants last Sunday.
“This was by far the largest regional competition we’ve participated in and definitely one of the most competitive,” said social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio, who coordinates Huntington’s National History Day initiative. “Our projects were exceptional and our student’s hard work and dedication were evident to all the judges.”
Huntington students captured a long list of awards during the contest that kept participants on their toes and required them to discuss their research and findings to experts in their field.
The two Huntington projects chosen to advance to the state finals are exceptional. The research team of Andrew McKenzie, Valerie Rogel, Ella Siepel and Erin Ye earned second place in the senior group website category for their project titled, “Federal Regulation After Devastation: How Nations Recovered from the Thalidomide Tragedy.”
“Our school and district is honored to send Andrew McKenzie, Valerie Rogel, Ella Siepel and freshman Erin Ye to the state level of competition for their website that tells the story of ‘Federal Regulation After Devastation: How Nations Recovered from the Thalidomide Tragedy,’” said Joseph Leavy, Huntington’s chairman of humanities, 7-12. “This story reminds of us the dangers and promise of scientific achievement at a point in our history where drugs proliferate and regulation is ever the more necessary.”
“When we started working on our project, I had no idea that we would make it to the states,” Ms. Ye said. “I’m so glad that our hard work has paid off and that our website made a lasting impact on those who saw it. I congratulate everybody from Huntington who competed on Sunday and made it to Cooperstown.”
Many long hours went into each of the projects. “I’m satisfied that all of our hard work as a group paid off,” Ms. Rogel said. “It was certainly a challenge to create a website that could truly encompass all of the perspectives involved in the thalidomide tragedy and we are grateful for the guidance from our teachers. I’m excited to attend states with my friends and I wish the best to the other Huntington competitors.”
The teenagers mastered their subject matter and it clearly impressed the judges. “My group members and I are so excited to have an opportunity to attend the state competition,” Ms. Siepel said. “We put so much hard work into our website and did all we could to clearly and concisely state the importance of the thalidomide tragedy. I feel as if my participation in National History Day has helped me develop many useful academic skills and I’m so happy to be part of it.”
The research team of Paul Katigbak, Andrew Knowles, Ryan Knowles and Julien Rentsch captured third place in the senior group documentary category for their project titled, “Unit 731: The Unpunished Scientists Behind the Japanese Holocaust.”
“It was a lot of fun to research history with my friends in a way that we don’t usually get to in the classroom,” Andrew Knowles said. “I’m really looking forward to the state competition. We are hopeful to make a return trip to the nationals.”
“As I recall my time as a teacher in 1990 in Flushing, Queens, among my predominantly Chinese students who then surreptitiously shared clandestine copies of smuggled video on the story of Unit 731, it is utterly satisfying to witness the continued raising of public awareness of the ‘Unpunished Scientists Behind the Japanese Holocaust’ through the superior documentary created by the Knowles twins, Julien Rentsch and Paul Katigbak,” Mr. Leavy said. “The boys truly deserve, and need to, continue to tell this story on a state and national stage.”
Huntington’s Long Island regional honorees include:
- Robert Jean-Gilles: Third Place – Individual Performance
Project title: “Black Ice”
- Natalie Ciccone: Third Place – Senior Individual Website
Project title: “Anarchist Emma Goldman: Tragedies of a Social and Political Activist in America”
- Katie Browne, Emily Geller, Christopher Maichin – Senior Group Exhibit
Winner of Conservation, Preservation, Restoration or Entry Tied to a Historic Site Award sponsored by the Fire Island National Seashore
Project title: “Island of Hope or Island of Tears: The ‘Use’ of Medical Inspections for Entry or Exile”
- Alice Bradford – Senior Historical Paper
Presidential History Award sponsored by the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Project title: “Triumph and Tragedy: The Iran-Contra Affair and the Duplicity of the Reagan Administration”
- Moira Contino, Maggie Lalor, Isabella Neira – Senior Group Documentary
Use of Archives Award sponsored by the National Archives at New York City NARA NE Region
Project title: “Hurricane Katrina”
- Jason Verville – Senior Individual Exhibit
Local History Award sponsored by the NYSUT-New York United Teachers
Project title: “Heartbreak Highway”
- Josie Fasolino and Julia Segal – Senior Group Exhibit
Latin American History Award sponsored by the Long Island Council of the Social Studies “The Project title: Mexican Muralist Movement: The Triumph of Nationalistic Expression Over the Tragedy of Socio-Political Unrest”
- Natalie Ciccone – Senior Individual Website
Women’s History Award sponsored by the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association
Project title: “Anarchist Emma Goldman: Tragedies of a Social and Political Activist in America”
- Sarah Biernacki – Senior Individual Performance
Science History Award sponsored by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Project title: “Radium Girls: Forcing Industry to See the Light”
- Timothy Kusterbeck – Junior Individual Exhibit
Local History Award
Project title: “The Battle of Long Island”
Huntington’s participants were energized following the all-day competition. “National History Day was a great experience,” Ms. Ciccone said. “It was my third year at Hofstra and I’m glad I was able to place third in the individual website category and win a special award. The projects are amazing and something that all of the participants share is a passion for history.”
Katie Browne, Emily Geller and Christopher Maichin were ecstatic after winning a special award for their senior group exhibit titled “Island of Hope or Island of Tears: The ‘Use’ of Medical Inspections for Entry or Exile”
“National History Day was a great life experience,” Ms. Browne said. “Although the work was long and challenging, it taught me important lessons and allowed me to learn history in an exciting new way.”
The trio captured the Conservation, Preservation, Restoration or Entry Tied to a Historic Site Award, which was sponsored by the Fire Island National Seashore.
“National History Day taught me so many valuable lessons,” Ms. Geller said. “Teamwork, determination and time management are only a few of the things my group and I were able to improve on. Even though were are not moving onto states, it was very cool to compete amongst such talented kids. Hopefully next year we can make it even further.”
Winning a special award helped make all the hours spent researching and writing well worth the effort.
“The whole National History Day experience was amazing,” Mr. Maichin said. “Being rewarded for all your hard work since the beginning of the school year is amazing. Being able to collaborate and bounce ideas off your group-mates and help create an even better version of the idea that you had at the start of the project is truly amazing. I am so happy with what our group has accomplished as freshman. We are all excited to do even better next year.”
Huntington students have a long history of winning awards in the regional and state contests and have even won honors nationally. Last weekend’s performance at Hofstra continued this long tradition of excellence.
“Our young historians displayed so much passion for their projects this year, which was reflected in their phenomenal work,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Our students were very passionate about the topics they chose this year, which allowed them to delve deep into their research. National History Day is such a great opportunity because it often leads our students to topics that are relatively unknown or uncover topics that teachers can incorporate into their lessons. Prior to this year’s competition, I myself had no knowledge about Unit 731, a covert biological and chemical warfare program that the Imperial Japanese Army undertook during World War II. One of the lesser known atrocities of the 20th century, I plan to show my students next year in tenth grade this powerful documentary that carefully examines a relatively unknown and extremely horrifying war crime.”
State History Day is set for Monday, April 29 at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Huntington’s two projects are expected to be extremely competitive with the best in the state.
Huntington students were once again well prepared for the LI regional finals. “The end result of their tireless dedication, countless hours and hard work were outstanding projects that stood out in the competition,” said Mrs. Desiderio about Huntington’s participants in the 2019 initiative. “Long Island is one of, if not the most competitive regional competition. Competing against 800 students can be intimidating, but our students did an amazing job representing our district. I am so excited that we will be able to send on two projects to the state championships later this month. I am absolutely thrilled for our winners, but also extremely proud of all of our participants.”
Mr. Leavy attended Sunday’s regionals at Hofstra and took delight in the strong performance of Huntington UFSD students. “My personal favorite was what became a third place individual performance category finish for veteran of the stage Robert Jean-Gilles, as his entry ‘Black Ice’ told the story of Malcolm X in dramatic fashion,” he said.