Teacher Lauren Desiderio is surrounded by the History Day club executive board

Huntington Shines at National History Day

Teacher Lauren Desiderio is surrounded by the History Day club executive board

February 15, 2018

Huntington students shined at this year’s National History Day exhibition and awards ceremony in the high school auditorium. A sensational array of projects and performances spread across research areas captivated an audience of about 400.

This year’s initiative encompassed sixth graders in the district’s SEARCH program for the first time and also included over 30 students from J. Taylor Finley Middle School and more than 300 teenagers attending Huntington High School.

The top three entries in each category will move on to the Long Island regional finals at Hofstra University on Sunday, March 18. The state championships are set for Monday, April 23 in Cooperstown. The national finals will be held June 10-14 at the University of Maryland at College Park. Huntington students have found success at every level of competition over the years.

The initiative’s 2018 national theme is “Conflict and Compromise in History.” Huntington students submitted projects in five formats: historical research papers, museum exhibits, video or computer generated documentaries, theatrical performances, and websites. Besides individual entries, all categories except papers can be completed by a group of up to five students.

Guided by faculty advisor and social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio, Huntington High School’s History Day club coordinated the National History Day program in the district.

“Student projects were carefully and meticulously evaluated this year by veteran judges who do a truly amazing job selecting the top projects,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “I’m forever appreciative of the time and effort they devote to judging and providing exceptional feedback for our competitors as they move on to the regional competition. Without their support as well as that of the administration, it would be very difficult to continue this prestigious competition, especially at the level that it has grown to with well over 300 participants.”

Mrs. Desiderio and her faculty colleagues continue to believe in the educational value of the initiative. “For many students, especially our ninth graders, National History Day is a project unlike any other,” she said. “Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone and expand their research skills. Over the last several months our students have been seeking out experts in the field of their topic, filmmakers, eyewitnesses, authors and college professors among many others.  It was pretty amazing to hear how excited students were securing some of their sources which ranged from one group interviewing the National Hockey League Player’s Assn, to a student who was able to travel to Germany over the Christmas break to interview a woman with connections to the Stasi police force in East Berlin to name just a few. Our National History Day program continues to foster a passion for learning and a love of history. We are hopeful to build upon the success our students achieved last year and look forward to the regional competition next month.”

Energetic History Day Club

The History Day club is led by executive board members Maggie Giles (president), Gaia D’Anna (vice president), Isabella Piccola (recording secretary), Nicole Arenth (corresponding secretary), Alyssa Befumo (treasurer), Isabella McGinniss (historian) and administrative assistants Niamh Condon, Erica Vazquez and Max Robins.

The award’s ceremony once again highlighted some of the more remarkable projects, including a group performance staged by Jennifer Low and Abby Semelsberger that focused on Barry Winchell, a member of the US Army whose murder by a fellow soldier let to a formal review of the government’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“It was so much fun,” said Ms. Semelsberger about the experience. “National History Day is such an amazing experience and I have learned so much through it. Working on this year”s project was so interesting. We cannot wait for Hofstra!”

Huntington students were pumped up by the initiative and the recognition they received during the awards ceremony.

Oskar Kilgour and Ryan Hoffmann collaborated on a group website project that captured third place honors. “The Munich Agreement: Prolonging an Inevitable War” earned praise from the judges.

“Ryan and I really enjoyed researching our project and constructing our website,” Mr. Kilgour said. “We have already begun to improve it for the competition at Hofstra.”

Zubair Ali, Molly Kessler, Baylie Larsen and Julia Segal earned first place for their group exhibit. “Researching the first opium wars this year with my group was truly an enriching experience,” Ms. Segal said. “Along with being given an opportunity to further my knowledge on an intriguing topic, I was able to grow closer with my group members and enhance my love for history.”

Paul Katigbak, Andrew Knowles, Ryan Knowles and Julien Rentsch won first place in the group documentary category for their study of the first spy exchange of the Cold War. “After finding a topic that fit the theme and greatly interested us, my group and I worked diligently to piece together our documentary. One of the people we interviewed even had regular contact with Steven Spielberg and offered to send him our work!”

Diya Rai-Gersappe grabbed first place honors for her individual exhibit on the anti-vaccination movement in 19th century England. “I was glad to spend time researching a topic that I was thoroughly interested in and to come out with an exhibit that I was proud of,” she said.

A veteran participant in the National History Day program, Katie Riley garnered first place for her individual documentary on how Women’s Airforce Service Pilots helped the US win World War II.

“For the past three years, National History Day has challenged me to discover topics I may not have otherwise studied,” Ms. Riley said. “This year, my documentary about the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of WWII uncovers the discrimination of gender roles in American society at the time which led to the disbandment of the group. However, the WASP remained steadfast to their accomplishments and ultimately gained veterans status and the Congressional Medal of Honor. They earned their place in history. I look forward to sharing their story and representing Huntington High School at the Long Island History Day competition.”  

Natalie Ciccone and Kyra DeSalvo placed second for their group website on Emmeline Pankhurst and her fight for women’s suffrage. “National History Day is a great opportunity to learn more about history and the struggle and achievements of previous generations,” Ms. Ciccone said. “It has taught me how history has truly shaped and developed the world in which we presently live.”

Initiative Makes History More Relevant

The annual history initiative seeks to make history more relevant for students and requires them to use a variety of practical and creative skills during the development of their projects.

“This year’s awards night was definitely one to remember,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Not only will I sincerely miss my graduating club officers/mentors, but I was inspired by this year’s projects. Abby and Jenny’s impactful and griping group performance as well as Katie’s History Channel worthy documentary were just some of the highlights of the night. In addition, it was wonderful to see firsthand the excitement of our sixth grade competitors. They were eager to show off their projects and we look forward to continue working with the SEARCH program in order to expand participation at the junior level.  We are very proud of their hard work and devotion.”

Huntington has one of the largest National History Day programs in the state. Students have distinguished themselves in every category over the years.

“Our Huntington National History Day program provides students with the tools to engage in highly purposeful historical research that culminates in student presentations that teach our community about ourselves as a people,” said Joseph Leavy, the district’s chairman of humanities, 7-12. “The student documentaries, historical papers, performances, websites and exhibits each tell a story, which this year reminds us that conflicts are inevitable in human relations, but we have the ability to heal through seeking common ground. I was reminded as I reviewed the projects that I took time to explore, that common ground is achievable and compromise is not weakness.”

Several of Mrs. Desiderio’s department colleagues devoted many hours to working with students as the teenagers pursued research and developed their projects. The faculty group included Camille Tedeschi, Kenneth Donovan and Jordan Gould. J. Taylor Finley Middle School teacher Jarrad Richter and first year SEARCH program teacher Jessica Risalvato also worked with students from their buildings who submitted projects.

“Our teachers once again impressed me with their professional work and dedication,” Mr. Leavy said. “Mrs. Desiderio and her student club officers put together a program that will remain memorable and recognized the achievements of the individuals and groups whose projects taught us all. Mr. Donovan, Ms. Tedeschi and Mr. Gould all spent countless hours, above and beyond, with their students in guiding the young scholars in their historical craft.”

Participation Has Been Growing

Participation in Huntington’s National History Day initiative has grown over the past few years. “At Finley Middle School, Mr. Richter continues to lead and build the Yorker club, which provides seventh and eighth graders who seek enrichment to develop and create impressive websites and exhibits. And we welcomed this year for the first time, sixth grade participants in the group exhibit category, led by the inspiration and receptivity of Ms. Risalvato, the SEARCH teacher at Woodhull Intermediate School and Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School.”

Teams of Huntington teachers served as judges in each of the categories. Dozens of students were honored during the awards ceremony last Thursday night, which was attended by Superintendent James W. Polansky, Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack and Assistant Principals Joseph DiTroia and Gamal Smith.

“Students who are continuing on to Hofstra next month for the highly competitive regionals have our support, guidance and backing as they refine their entries, with the hope and expectation that Huntington will be once again represented at the state level,” Mr. Leavy said. “More importantly, our students have learned more deeply about our history and have taught us in the process lessons of how and why to seek resolutions to present conflicts that pull us apart.”

The district intends to continue sponsoring the program and intends to encourage even more students to participate in it in future years.

“I am deeply grateful to the Huntington Board of Education, the central office and building administrations for their continued support and commitment to what our teachers provide for our students,” Mr. Leavy said. “Mr. Cusack and Mr. Polansky have always showed this support, which is important as this esteemed program reaches more and more students every year.”

2018 National History Day Award Winners

Senior Division

Individual Performance:
3rd: The Failure of the Arusha Peace Accords: Robert Jean-Gilles
2nd: Schenectady Massacre: Sarah Biernacki
1st: The Deaf: Katherine Eichenberger

Group Performance:
2nd: Saladan: Ryan Aguirre & Gabe Moskovitch
1st: Conflict that Failed to Prevent Compromise: The Barry Winchell Story: Jenny Low & Abby Semelsberger

Individual Documentary:
3rd: El Salvador: Candido Martinez
2nd: War on Drugs: Nicholas Haupt
1st: WASP: Winning Their War: Katie Riley

Group Documentary:
3rd: Prohibition: Jack Monahan & Daniel Petrylka
2nd: Northern Ireland Troubles: Moira Contino, Maggie Lalor, & Bella Neira
1st: Diplomatic Relations on Trial: The First Spy Exchange of the Cold War: Paul Katigbak, Andrew Knowles, Ryan Knowles & Julien Rentsch

Historical Paper:
3rd: GM vs. the UAW: Haley Mortell
2nd: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Company: Ella Siepel
1st: The Divestiture of AT&T: David Mosden

Individual Exhibit:
3rd: Japanese Internment Camps: Ethan McGuiness
2nd: The Ambivalent WWI Weapons of Mass Destruction: Erika Varady
1st: Not In My Body: The Lasting Legacy of the Anti-Vaccination Movement in 19th Century England: Diya Rai-Gersappe

Group Exhibit:
3rd: Ice Wars- The Fight for Rights on Ice: Jason Verville & Ryan Williams
2nd: The Flushing Remonstrance and John Bowne: Abigail Holmes, Madelyn Kye, & Gabriel Medina-Jaudes
1st: The First Opium War: Wealth, Weapons, and Welfare: Zubair Ali, Molly Kessler, Baylie Larsen & Julia Segal

Individual Website:
3rd: The United States and Russia’s Relationship in Space: Robert Caputi
2nd: The Current Wars: An Electrifying Battle for the Future: James Obermaier
1st: Srebrenica: Identifying Europe’s Darkest Hours: Neil Jean-Baptiste

Group Website:
3rd: The Munich Agreement: Prolonging an Inevitable War: Ryan Hoffmann & Oskar Kilgour
2nd: Emmeline Pankhurst and Her Fight for Women’s Suffrage: Natalie Ciccone & Kyra DeSalvo
1st: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Compromise for Human Rights: Shyann Maragh & Lily Stein

Junior Division

Individual Website:
2nd: The War on Drugs: A Domestic American Conflict: Evelyn Johnson
1st: The Barbary Wars: Pivotal Maritime Conflicts in Early American History: Luca D’Anna

Group Website:
1st: The Second Great Awakening: A Historical Conflict Between Mainstream Religions and the U.S. Government: Grace Colavecchio & Sofia Marchetta

Individual Exhibit:
2nd: JFK vs. Khrushchev: The Covert Conflict of the Cuban Missile Crisis: Lauren Landolfi
1st: Jackie Robinson and the Color Barrier: An Influential Conflict in American History: Jack O’Brien

Group Exhibit:
3rd: Jesse Owens: Breaking the Color Barrier: Lars Galvin, Peter Leavy & Adriano LaMantia
2nd: Dropping Bombs: The Story of Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Nicholas Morris, Jackson Stollmack & Mia Thompson
1st: Which Witch is Which? The Salem Witch Trials: Samantha McGloin, Ella O’Heir, Brooke Parks & Uma Shtrom

Senior Division Special Awards

African-American History Award:
Individual Exhibit
The NAACP created by Mackenzie Joseph

American Labor History:
Historical Paper
GM vs. the UAW created by Haley Mortell

Asian-American History:
Individual Exhibit
Japanese Internment Camps created by Ethan McGuiness

Citizen Activist Award:
Individual Website
With God Against Man: The Uncompromising Moral Decision of Sousa Mendes created by Bryce Vitulli

Entry Tied to Historical Site:
Group Website
Hetch Hetchy Dam created by Katie Burton & Katie Stock

Equality in History Award:
Individual Exhibit
Brown v. Board of Education created by Claudia Villatoro

Genocide, Bias, & Tolerance Award:
Group Website
The Armenian Genocide: The Unrecognized Atrocity created by Michael Reed & Joseph Tonjes

Global Peace Award:
Group Website
USA/USSR SALT Agreements created by John Panos, Luca Perna, Patrick Sclafani & Chris Weber

Irish or Irish-American History: 
Group Documentary
Patrick Quinlan and the Siege at Jadotville created by Catherine McCooey, Aidan McCooey & Michael McCooey

Immigration History Award:
Group Exhibit
Jewish Immigration created by Emma Grassi & Natalie McCann

Latino-American History Award:
Group Website
The Guatemalan Coup of 1954 created by Matthew Quinn, Daniel Thompson & Graham Young

Military History Award:
Group Website
The Harlem Hellfighters: Fighting the War Against Racial Adversity created by Craig Haas & Charles O’Rourke

Naval History Award:
Individual Website
The Washington Conference: A Naval Conflict created by Diego Torres

Physical & Life Sciences Award: 
Group Website
Hela Cell Line: Putting Patient Confidentiality Under the Microscope created by Hannah Avidor & Livia D’Anna

Sports History Award:
Individual Website
The AFL-NFL Merger created by Nathan Musso

U.S. Constitution Award:
Group Website
The Feinberg Law created by Christiana DeLuca & Mathew Hearl

White House History:
Group Website
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Conflict and Compromise Over the New Deal created by Cameron Fehrs, Meagan Malone, Nicole Walsh & Phoebe Walther

Women’s History: 
Group Website
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 created by Ava Brosnan, Lauren Gooding & Gemma Pellegrini

Best Topic in Global History 9th Grade: 
Individual Website
Art Restitution after WWII created by Grace Wildermuth

Best Topic in Global History 10th Grade: 
Historical Paper
The Berlin Wall created by Alice Bradford

Best Topic in American History 11th Grade: 
Historical Paper
The Half-Life of Radium: How Five Dial Painters Changed Labor Rights created by Julia Collins

Clio Award: 
Group Website
Stilyagi Subsculture created by Anna Koulakova & Sasha Koulakova

Jack Abrams Local History Award: 
Group Exhibit
The Flushing Remonstrance and John Bowne created by Abigail Holmes, Madelyn Kye & Gabriel Medina-Jaudes

Principal’s Award: 
Historical Paper
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Instigator of United States Involvement in WWII created by Patrick Langton

Historical Paper
Nietzsche’s Ubermensch and the Rise of Nazism in World War II created by Foster Sullivan

Junior Division Special Awards

Archive Award:
Group Exhibit
Anne Frank: Conflict in the Annex created by Samantha Koepele, Lily Tierney, Jada Joseph & Layna Abraham

Individual in History Award:
Group Exhibit
Samuel Adams & The Sons of Liberty created by Marley Joseph, Riley Murtagh, Olivia Polinsky & Sophie Lange

Clio Award:
Salem Witch Trials created by Daniela Parmigiani, Lara Courgi & Amelia McMahon

Best Topic in Global History:
Group Exhibit
Geneva Convention Protocols of 1980 created by Benjamin Edgar-McNerney & Brian Welch

Human Rights Award:
Group Exhibit
Sarah Good and the Salem Witch Trials created by Charlotte Gordon, Adriana Abbatiello, Brooke Farasciano, Katherine Estrada Morales & Andrew Ganley

Best Topic in American History:
Group Exhibit
Crispus Attacks & the Boston Massacre created by Thomas Girimonti & Rock Kerrigan

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