Four Huntington High School students researched and analyzed the issue of the death penalty for juveniles in the United States. The group won first place honors in the local National History Day competition.
The theme of this year’s initiative is “Breaking Barriers in History.” Valerie Rogel, Ella Siepel, Erin Ye and Andrew McKenzie spent weeks studying the issue of allowing youth to be executed if found guilty of certain serious crimes.
The four young scholars developed a project titled “Evolving Standards of Decency: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty for Minors,” which garnered the top award in the group website category of the local National History Day contest.
The project’s thesis was: “The United States’ stance on the death penalty, specifically with regard to juvenile criminals, has largely reflected the history of the nation as a whole. Although the federal stance on the juvenile death penalty had largely maintained that the practice was constitutional, there was no national consensus. Evolving standards of decency in the late twentieth century and early twenty first century resulted in a barrier between states and the nation. The Supreme Court's choice to review the constitutionality of the death penalty for minors reflects the mitigation of this conflict and the establishment of a legal consensus on the matter.”
Over the past decade, only Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have conducted executions of those who committed a capital offense prior to the age of 18. Hundreds of youth were executed in America for crimes committed as juveniles dating back to the early 1600’s and the colonial period.
“We chose to cover the juvenile death penalty largely because it remains controversial today,” Ms. Rogel said. “Our topic is extremely impactful on how we as a country perceive who is eligible for the death penalty and which practices are considered acceptable and unacceptable.
A lot of the research was centered on reading the individual cases themselves, which was a unique challenge, but ultimately contributed greatly to our use of primary sources. I am proud of how well we adapted to the technology at our fingertips. NHD Web Central is very different from the Weebly format of past years, but ultimately my group members rose to the challenge and created a project that is representative of the hard work we put in.”
The four students worked on the project in addition to their regular academic work and participation in clubs and athletics, among other responsibilities and time consuming tasks.
“Though we initially had trouble finding a topic that both fit the theme and was interesting to everyone in our group, we landed on the subject of the death penalty after brainstorming many possibilities,” Ms. Siepel said. “In our research, we split pages up so everyone would have their own area to work on. As for sources, the Supreme Court cases that we used ended up being valuable for primary sources. We were definitely pleased with the end result, especially since we faced many struggles along the way both with our topic and with the new website builder, NHD Web Central.”
The website the four Huntington teenagers developed is exceptional in its breadth and analysis. It can be accessed by visiting this link: https://site.nhd.org/38239260.
The four research partners worked remarkably well with each other. “We decided to research the history of the juvenile death penalty because it is still highly relevant today and would lend itself well to an interactive website,” Ms. Ye said. “We relied heavily on Supreme Court cases for our research and also reached out to experts for their insight of the topic. Using the new website creator, NHD Web Central, was definitely a challenge at first, but overall we were really pleased with what we were able to do.”
Huntington High School social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio, who coordinates the district’s National History Day program along with members of the History Day club presented first place certificates to Ms. Rogel, Ms. Siepel, Ms. Ye and Mr. McKenzie who were all thrilled to have garnered top honors.