Juniors Alyssa Befumo and Aidan Forbes made a statement in Cooperstown on Monday afternoon: Huntington High School has some of the finest students in the country. The two teenagers both won first place in the New York State History Day finals and earned berths in the national championships at the University of Maryland at College Park in June.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with both Aidan and Alyssa over the last three years as they have participated in the National History Day competition,” said social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio, who coordinates Huntington’s National History Day initiative. “While both have been successful in our local competition over the years, this will be their first time representing the district and state at the nationals. I’m thrilled that this will be the third consecutive year that Huntington High School will be represented at the national finals. This success is a true testament to the dedication our students and my colleagues put forth in recognizing the pursuit of research and historical inquiry within our curriculums.”
Ms. Befumo captured the senior individual documentary category for her project titled: “The Stonewall Uprising: Taking a Stand against LGBT Inequality.” Students from Herricks High School and Friends Seminary in Manhattan finished second and third, respectively.
“It was such an honor to even attend the statewide competition,” Ms. Befumo said. “All of the other projects were extremely well done. I had a great time exploring Cooperstown over the weekend and I can’t wait to represent Huntington in Maryland for the nationals.”
“An amazing experience”
Huntington junior Aidan Forbes won first place
in the State History Day finals.
Mr. Forbes garnered first place in the senior historical paper category for his project titled: “Larry Flynt: An Unlikely Hero Takes a Stand against Censorship.” Students from Hewlett High School and the Wheatley School in East Williston took second and third place, respectively.
“I had a great day walking around the Cooperstown and my interview with the judges couldn’t have gone better,” Mr. Forbes said. “It was an amazing experience being at the awards ceremony and witnessing hours of hard work seriously pay off. I am grateful for the assistance and advice of Mrs. Desiderio and Mr. [Kenneth] Donovan and I’m looking forward to the nationals.”
The national championship is set for June 11-15 at the University of Maryland. The event is expected to draw 3,000 contestants from across the country as well as from Guam and American Samoa and from international schools in China, Korea, South Asia and Central America.
“I am sincerely wowed by the impressive and sophisticated research both Aidan and Alyssa conducted this year,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Aidan chose a really unique topic this year, focusing on Larry Flynt and his fight against censorship. Aidan is a humble student and he really underestimated the strength of his paper. While the public is well-aware of Larry Flynt as a very controversial figure, Aidan presented a very original and unique take on Flynt and connected it well to this year’s theme.”
“Poignant and emotional”
Huntington junior Alyssa Befumo captured first place
in the State History Day finals.
Ms. Befumo’s project was equally powerful. “Poignant and emotional, I was really moved by Alyssa’s documentary,” Ms. Desiderio said. “Her use of government reports, executive orders, propaganda and additional primary source materials from the 1950s and 1960s really emphasized the unjust perceptions and actions taken against the LBGT community. The Stonewall riot was a catalyst for the formation of gay rights organizations and she did an amazing job connecting the importance of this turning point with this year’s theme. Her ability to connect her topic to present day LBGT issues as well as her inclusion of President [Barack] Obama’s designation of Stonewall as a national monument really brought her project full circle. I’m awed by what she accomplished in just 10 minutes of time.”
This week’s competition has been sponsored by the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown since 1980. The group works with 14 historical societies, museums, teacher centers and BOCES from across the state to attract new participants to the program and run regional contests.
Contestants are judged on the historical quality of their work (60 percent), the clarity of their presentation (20 percent) and the relation of their project to the annual theme (20 percent). The 2017 theme is “Taking a Stand in History.”
Five other projects developed by Huntington High School students also qualified for the state finals in Cooperstown, including:
• Senior Group Website:
The War on Drugs by Nicole Arenth, Kenneth Fajardo, and Jamie Rosenbauer
• Senior Group Website:
Garbo: The Double Agent Who Deceived the Nazis by William Burton, Ryan Knowles and Bryce Vitulli
• Senior Individual Website:
Sophie Scholl: Taking A Stand against Hitler by Natalie Ciccone
“I am so proud of all of our students who participated in the state competition and greatly admire their time, effort and determination,” Ms. Desiderio said. “Their projects were impressive and competitive. Each of these students became experts in their area of historical inquiry and taught me something as well. I personally have learned so much from this year’s participants, especially our projects on Sophie Scholl and Garbo. Lastly, our four freshmen competitors were able to participate in a memorable event and will hopefully be able to use this experience as motivation for next year.”
“A great journey”
Huntington’s contestants found value in traveling to the enchanting upstate village and vying against talented counterparts from across New York.
“It was a great experience to be included in such a prestigious event,” Mr. Burton said. “I liked the competitive environment. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it was a great journey that I will never forget. Cooperstown was the perfect place to hold the state finals. It has a lot of history. I enjoyed visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Farmer’s Museum.”
Huntington is well-positioned for future success on the state level with so many underclassmen participating in this year’s event.
“I can definitely see why they chose Cooperstown as the site for New York History Day,” Mr. Knowles said. “The entire town brought history to life from the Farmer’s Museum and the Baseball Hall of Fame to 19th century buildings with functional blacksmith tools and printing presses. It was like taking a step back in time.”
This week’s participants all returned back home with memories they will never forget. “Being able to go and compete in Cooperstown was a really an amazing experience,” Ms. Arenth said. “Cooperstown is a beautiful town with a picturesque view. I loved the fact that I was able to travel somewhere that I have never gone before, learn about the history of the town and also teach others about history with my group’s project. Bringing our project up to compete at the state level was truly an honor. The topic of our project was the War on Drugs. As I learned more about the topic, the more I wanted to advocate and educate people on it, so being able to share our project with so many people really was fantastic. Despite the fact that we weren’t able to move on, I’m still extremely happy that we were able to make it this far in our final year of doing NHD. We appreciate all the help and support we received along the way. The best of luck to Alyssa and Aidan.”
District officials offered praise for the students participating in this year’s program, locally as well as those who reached the regionals and state finals and the dynamic duo headed to the nationals in June.
“In my 20 years of involvement with the National History Day program both in New York City and at J. Taylor Finley Middle School and Huntington High School, never have I been so impressed with the caliber of student work and teacher guidance as I have been this year,” said Joseph Leavy, district chairman of humanities for grades 7-12. “Both the Finley entries and those from seasoned and novice students in groups and as individuals at the high school, has surpassed all expectations in quality of research and engagement with audience through varied modality of presentation.”