National History Day

Huntington Shines at National History Day Regionals

These Huntington NHD regional medalists are happy teenagers.

March 22, 2017

Huntington students shined at the National History Day Long Island regional finals at Hofstra University this past Sunday.

Competing in a field that drew 36 schools and more than 300 spectacular entries, projects submitted by Huntington High School and J. Taylor Finley Middle School students won a long list of awards. The top projects will now advance to the state finals in Cooperstown later this spring.

“Words cannot adequately express how proud I am of this year’s participants,” said Lauren Desiderio, a Huntington High School social studies teacher who coordinates the National History Day program. “This year was one of the best and most successful ones for the Huntington School District at the regional level. These distinguished scholars have worked tirelessly, some since September, devoting hours upon hours to researching and refining their original historical projects.”

The judges at Hofstra were clearly impressed by Huntington’s students, including those who didn’t win awards, but nevertheless were articulate and well-informed when interviewed on Sunday morning about their projects.

“Went above and beyond”

“Our young historians went above and beyond this year seeking interviews; some traveling as far as New Jersey to interview one of the last surviving members of the Ghost Army, a World War II Allied Army tactical deception unit,” Ms. Desiderio said. “Our students genuinely connected with the topics they chose this year, which allowed them to develop a passion for history and foster outstanding projects. Others travelled to the Thomas Paine Cottage and the Sagamore Hill national historic site as a part of their research as well. These are experiences that they will never forget.”

The Huntington students qualified for the regional finals through an earlier local competition. Following that preliminary event, participants were able to refine their work, taking into consideration comments from judges.

“The results at the regional level of the competition reflect the hard work students put in over the course of months,” high school social studies teacher Kenneth Donovan said. “While we get to see the finished product, it’s important to remember that those projects are the result of many hours spent poring over sources, making sense of contradictory evidence and constant editing. I’m continually impressed with the effort and care our students put into this research project.”

The Long Island regional competition is always tough, but Huntington shined brighter than ever before in what some consider to be the most challenging field ever.

“We had seven winning (top three in a respective category) projects this year; our most ever,” Ms. Desiderio said. “This is a true testament to the growth and development of the National History Day program at our school. None of this would be possible without the continued support from our administration, my department colleagues and the parents and students themselves. I was thrilled to see our students, some whom have competed for the past three years, finally secure a win as their hard work paid off. I am also especially proud of my ninth grade students. This was their first time competing in this research competition. It is an honor to make it to the regional competition and the fact that three of their projects won is an unbelievable accomplishment and worthy of recognition.” 

Countless hours spent on projects

Developing an award winning project takes time and requires many stages of editing and refinement. “I admire enthusiasm our students exhibited throughout this process and their determination to improve their projects was well worth all of the extra hours they dedicated the past several months,” Ms. Desiderio said.

This year’s competition included many newcomers to the initiative. “This was my first year doing National History Day and it was a really exciting experience,” freshman Abby Holmes said. “The competition was intimidating, but I’m so proud of how well Huntington did.”

The local National History Day competition is coordinated by Huntington High School’s History Day club. Club officers include Margaret Giles (president), Gaia D’Anna (vice president), Isabella Piccola (recording secretary), Nicole Arenth (corresponding secretary), Alyssa Befumo (treasurer), Isabella McGinniss (historian) and administrative assistants Erica Vazquez and Max Robins.

“I have to give a special shout out to my National History Day club officers and other former students who volunteered to help at the Long Island regional competition,” Ms. Desiderio said. “These students gave up their entire Sunday and were an integral part in helping the competition at Hofstra University run smoothly.” 

Huntington’s long list of honorees include:

Senior Group Website: 1st place
The War on Drugs by Nicole Arenth, Kenneth Fajardo, and Jamie Rosenbauer

Senior Individual Documentary: 1st place
The Stonewall Uprising: Taking a Stand against LGBT Inequality by Alyssa Befumo
Senior Group Website: 2nd place
Garbo: The Double Agent Who Deceived the Nazis by William Burton, Ryan Knowles and Bryce Vitulli

Senior Individual Website: 2nd place
Sophie Scholl: Taking A Stand against Hitler by Natalie Ciccone

Senior Historical Paper: 3rd place
Larry Flynt: An Unlikely Hero Takes a Stand against Censorship by Aidan Forbes
Senior Individual Performance: 3rd place
War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength by Robert Jean-Gilles
Senior Group Exhibit: 3rd place
Making Sense of Reason: Disseminating Thomas Paine’s Ideas in a Revolutionary Time by Abby Holmes, Maddy Kye and Gabriel Medina-Jaudes

“It’s really rewarding to have all of our hard work pay off after three years of doing National History Day,” junior Nicole Arenth. “Having teachers like Ms. Des and Mr. Donovan have allowed us to excel with our project and abilities. My congratulations to all the other winners.”

Many of the students were mentored throughout the process. “Long Island History Day was a huge success for Huntington,” junior Alyssa Befumo said. “I can’t wait to continue onto the statewide competition and share the story of the struggle for LGBT rights with others.” 

Although the work was hard and the hours spent developing the projects were long, participants in the competition derived a sense of accomplishment from the experience. “I enjoyed improving upon my project year after year and it’s a great thing to see that hard work come to fruition,” junior Aidan Forbes said.

Special Award Winners

Sports History Award sponsored by Atlantic Baseball Club
Jesse Owens: Defiance in Leaps and Bounds by Mackenzie Joseph

Aviation or Military History Award sponsored by the Cradle of Aviation Museum
The Ghost Army: Pretending to Take a Stand by Andrew Knowles, Julian Rentsch, Matthew
Gennarelli and Paul Katigbak

Local History Award sponsored by the Smithtown Historical Society
Thomas Nast: The Man Behind the Pictures by Samantha Sgrizzi, Adina Kirkland, Christopher Chang and Lauren White

J. Taylor Finley Middle School students also participated in the National History Day initiative through the Yorker Club. Social studies teacher Jarrad Richter serves as the club’s faculty advisor and he mentored the students during the project development process.

Junior Division – J. Taylor Finley Middle School Awards

Maritime History Award sponsored by the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum
Ric O’Barry: Taking a Stand against Taiji Dolphin Slaughter by Luca D’Anna

Outstanding Junior Entry on Local History
sponsored by the Smithtown Historical Society
Harry Chapin: Taking a Stand against World Hunger by
Nick Tudisco, Liam Hassett and Sofia Mercuri

“I was very happy to that Nick, Liam, Sofia and Luca took home special awards for their projects,” Mr. Richter said. “They worked hard and their effort is apparent in their finished products.”

The Finley students were thrilled to be honored for their work. “I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to participate in this event,” Ms. D’Anna said. “It enabled me to enhance my research skills and taught me how to work on a deadline and create a website.”

Developing their respective project introduced the students to new modes of research. “The National History Day project was a valuable experience,” Mr. Tudisco said. “We think it will help in social studies, but also when we get to the college level. I was grateful to be able to share Harry’s story.”

Mr. Chapin was a folk hero on Long Island and that wasn’t lost on the Finley students who made him the focus of their research. “Doing the research was cool,” Mr. Hassett said. “We were able to get some great personal info on Harry during the interviews we did.”

Although Mr. Chapin was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway decades ago, his memory lives on in the town he called home. “Learning more about Harry was really cool and learning about how he was determined to end hunger was very touching,” Ms. Mercuri said. “We put a lot of hard work into our project.”

Ms. Desiderio was quite pleased with the participation of the Finley students and the two awards they brought home. “I have to give a special shout-out to Mr. Richter who has dedicated countless hours to his students in helping them prepare for their first competition this year,” she said. “It was wonderful to see their work recognized this past weekend. They all did a fantastic job.”

National History Day
Beanna Cumella and Peyton Kalb with their award certificates at Hofstra.
National History Day
Lauren Desiderio (center) with Peyton Kalb and Beanna Cumella at Hofstra University.
National History Day
Jason Verville with his exhibit on the Berlin Airlift.
National History Day
Huntington freshmen William Burton, Bryce Vitulli and Ryan Knowles won a special award.