Huntington National History Day club executive board members flank faculty advisor Lauren Desiderio.

Huntington Celebrates National History Day

Huntington National History Day club executive board members flank faculty advisor Lauren Desiderio.

March 12, 2019

History came to life as hundreds of Huntington High School students submitted projects for this year’s local National History Day competition.

The teenagers spent months researching and developing their entries and took delight in the attention that was showered upon them during the awards ceremony.

Participants vied in categories ranging from research papers to individual and group websites, exhibits and documentaries. This year’s national theme was “Triumph & Tragedy in History.”

Teams of teachers served as judges for each category and spent hours evaluating the projects, which were displayed in the auditorium lobby prior to the announcement of this year’s award winners.

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.

A large crowd of more than 300 viewed projects on display in the school lobby before moving into the auditorium for several presentations and performances and the announcement of this year’s award winners. Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky was joined at the event by high school Principal Brenden Cusack.

Huntington High School social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio coordinates the annual initiative along with the History Day club, of which she serves as faculty advisor. The organization’s executive board consists of Maddy Kye (president), Natalie Ciccone (vice president), Abby Semelsberger (treasurer), Neil Jean-Baptiste (recording secretary), Julien Rentsch (corresponding secretary), Diya Rai-Gersappe (historian) and administrative assistants Kyra DeSalvo, Claudia Villatoro, Maggie Lalor and Moira Contino.

Mrs. Desiderio’s faculty colleagues Camille Tedeschi, Kenneth Donovan, Jarrad Richter and department chair Joseph Leavy all play important roles in the initiative.

The top place finishers in the recent local competition are headed to the Long Island regional finals at Hofstra University on Sunday, March 31. Students are able incorporate suggestions made by local judges to improve their projects.

The state championship is set for Monday, April 29 in Cooperstown. The national finals will be held June 9-13 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“NHD program continues to thrive at Huntington”

“The National History Day program continues to thrive at Huntington High School as it inspires, prepares and teaches our students,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Through the development of their research skills, project and time management as well as historical competency, many of our students have accomplished more than they ever thought possible. National History Day puts our students in the role of a historical detective in search of new or little known stories of the past. This year, our students certainly did not disappoint.”

Mrs. Desiderio puts her heart and soul into the history initiative. She’s optimistic about the chances of many Huntington students in the regional competition and beyond.

“Personally, I learned so much from our students about unique topics I knew little to nothing about such as the Radium Girls, Unit 731, the Bonus Army, the Thalidomide Tragedy and Nicholas Winton,” Ms. Desiderio said. “These projects were extremely powerful and showcased the exceptional research they uncovered. The projects our students created this year were remarkable and truly displayed their passion for history. Our students have been hard at work as they continue to research and refine their projects leading up to the highly anticipated Long Island regional competition at Hofstra University on March 31.”

“Ecstatic about our win”

“With all of the amazing projects in the group website category, my group and I were ecstatic about our win,” said Erin Ye, who along with research partners Andrew McKenzie, Valerie Rogel and Ella Siepel won first place for Federal Regulations After Devastation: How Nations Recovered from the Thalidomide Tragedy. “We invested countless amounts of time and effort into our research and the construction of our website, learning how to use Weebly and spending hours working together. I am so proud of all of our success and I can’t wait to continue on to Hofstra.”

Spending hours each week developing their entries was an often difficult task for this year’s contest participants. Individuals and groups took on some weighty topics.

“It was a very challenging project, but it allowed us to think outside the box and know we can persevere, which led us to learn valuable lessons for future obstacles,” said Katie Browne, who along with Emily Geller and Christopher Maichin captured second place in the group exhibit category for Ellis Island Immigration and Medical Inspections.

“NHD was a new experience for me as a freshman and I learned so much throughout the process,” Mr. Maichin said. “Along with learning about Ellis Island, I learned life lessons, especially that hard work really does pay off in the end. I am so proud of the work that my group and I produced and I hope next year is even better.”

“It feels so good to be rewarded”

Ms. Geller was also quite pleased with how the group’s project turned out. “It feels so good to be rewarded for the hard work we put into the project,” she said. “Although NHD requires a lot of work, the outcome can be amazing and make you appreciate history so much more.”

Huntington has realized substantial success on the regional, state and even national level and teachers and students hope this year’s National History Day competition produces the best showing ever.

“I really love NHD because it allows you to research a topic you’re passionate about since a wide subject matter falls under each year’s theme,” said Luca Perna, who along with research partners Daniel Danziger, Joseph Mead and John Panos garnered second place in the group website category for The Bonus Army.

Alice Bradford was pleased after placing third in the historical paper category for her project titled Triumph and Tragedy: The Iran-Contra Affair and the Duplicity of the Reagan Administration. “It was an enriching experience that allowed me to explore different periods of history through a multitude of historical lenses,” she said.

Luke Rinaldi won first place in the individual website category for Nicholas Winton: Triumph in the Face of the Holocaust. “National History Day has been a great experience, to say the least,” he said. “It was definitely a lot of work, but the research skills I have gained from it are invaluable. If given the choice to it again, I would without question.”

The members of J. Taylor Finley Middle School’s history-loving Yorker Club under the direction of social studies teacher Jarrad Richter developed a series of highly regarded projects and displayed skills that make it clear they will be statewide contenders in the near future.

“I was really impressed”

“I was really impressed with the quality of some of the projects and the original research students performed,” high school social studies teacher Kenneth Donovan said. “I particularly appreciated some of this year’s unique projects that sought to blend cultural and political history, with subjects like Jackson Pollack, Henry David Thoreau and the Mexican Muralists.”

Junior Robert Jean-Gilles captured first place for his remarkable individual performance on the Black Panthers titled Black Ice. “This year’s NHD project has meant so much to me,” he said. “I made a true personal connection to my topic and I look forward to Hofstra.”

This year’s initiative was a very powerful experience for participants. “The amount of work and dedication by both students and teachers for NHD is astounding,” high school social studies teacher and contest judge Fred Bisogno said. “One of the things that makes NHD so great is the fact that you get to meet and work with some amazing and talented young people, like I had the opportunity to do so with Robert Jean-Gilles, that you might not have had the opportunity to do so because they are not in your class every day. It was very exciting seeing Robert’s performance manifest itself from an idea into a powerful act.”

Interest continues to grow

Interest also continues to grow among SEARCH program sixth graders. This year’s contest drew entries from 42 SEARCH students who worked with teacher Jessica Risalvato to perfect their projects.

“I liked researching and learning new things,” sixth grader Anshi Paul said. “I liked being creative,” Vincenza Garofalo added.

Kathryn Schmidt said she “liked about history in a different way” while Lauren Donaghy enjoyed the collaboration and independence the initiative offered, stating “we got to work with partners and also we got to choose what project we could make.”

Sixth grader Griffin Kanzer summed up the opinion of many of his SEARCH classmates, noting what kept everyone interested. “We got to learn about new things,” he said.

Those moving on to the LI regional competition have been refining their projects. Mrs. Desiderio expects Huntington to send multiple entries to the state finals at Cooperstown. The veteran faculty member is pleased with how this year’s program and competition has unfolded.

“I would be remiss not to mention the National History Day Club officers for their help in putting on not only a successful awards ceremony, but more importantly the mentorship they have provided to this year’s participants, especially our Finley students and our sixth grade SEARCH students,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Mr. Richter and Ms. Risalvato did an amazing job and should be commended for their professional work and dedication to the continued growth of our junior division program. In addition, Mr. Donovan and Ms. Tedeschi spent countless hours guiding their students through the research process. I am also deeply grateful to the Huntington Board of Education, central and building administration and Mr. Leavy for their continued support.”

2019 National History Day Award Winners

Senior Division

Individual Performance:

3rd: On the Inside: Nellie Bly Undercover in an Insane Asylum

Katherine Eichenberger

2nd: Radium Girls: Forcing Industry to See the Light

Sarah Biernacki

1st: Black Ice

Robert Jean-Gilles

Group Performance:

1st: Margaret Sanger & the Birth Control Movement

Jennifer Low and Abby Semelsberger

Individual Documentary:

3rd: The Battle of the Bulge

Michael Mathews

2nd: John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Colin Kapernick: The Triumph and Tragedy of Standing Against Injustice

Gabriel Medina-Jaudes

1st: War and Peace: Bob Marley’s Impact

Julia Giles

Group Documentary:

3rd: The Creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Triumph and Tragedy for Humanity

Grace Colavecchio and Madeleine Gabriel

2nd: Hurricane Katrina: The Tragedy and Triumph of New Orleans

Moira Contino, Maggie Lalor and Bella Neira

1st: Unit 731: The Unpunished Scientists Behind the Japanese Holocaust

Paul Katigbak, Andrew Knowles, Ryan Knowles and Julien Rentsch

Historical Paper:

3rd: Triumph and Tragedy: The Iran-Contra Affair and the Duplicity of the Reagan Administration

Alice Bradford

2nd: The Revolution of the Shah vs. the People

Tess Stanley

1st: Henry David Thoreau: Turning Tragedy into Triumph How an American Transcendentalist Helped Fuel the Abolition of Slavery

Kyra DeSalvo

Individual Exhibit:

3rd: Tragedy of Time, Triumph of Idea: The Life and Legacy of Victoria Woodhull

Maddy Kye

2nd: Ryan White

Mia Brown

1st: Heartbreak Highway

Jason Verville

Group Exhibit:

3rd: The Jungle: The Horrors of the Meat-Packing Industry and How America Overcame It

Cianna Batts and Alexis Kaloudis

3rd: Ellis Island Immigration and Medical Inspections

Katie Browne, Emily Geller, & Christopher Maichin

2nd: The Courage of Love Will Produce Peace

Daniela Ramos & Daniela Weihskopf Escobar

1st: The Mexican Muralist Movement

Josie Fasolino and Julia Segal

Individual Website:

3rd: Anarchist Emma Goldman: Tragedies of a Social and Political Activist

Natalie Ciccone

2nd: Triumph and Tragedy in Organ Transplant Surgery

Finley Dunn

1st: Nicholas Winton: Triumph in the Face of the Holocaust

Luke Rinaldi

Group Website:

3rd: The Iranian Hostage Crisis

Ryan Hoffmann and Oskar Kilgour

2nd: The Bonus Army

Daniel Danziger, Joseph Mead, John Panos and Luca Perna

1st: Federal Regulations After Devastation: How Nations Recovered from the Thalidomide Tragedy

Andrew McKenzie, Valerie Rogel, Ella Siepel and Erin Ye

Junior Division

Group Performance:

1st: Irena Sendler: The Angel of the Warsaw Ghetto

Emily Kustera and Tess Markotsis

Group Exhibit:

3rd: The Tragedy of the Sodder Family

Ronnie Carillo and Anthony Addeo

2nd: The Great Purge: A Triumphant Right of Hope in the Face of Tragedy

Nicholas Plachta and Griffin Kanzer

1st: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Nazi Plunder

Abby Schueller and Parker Hepworth

Individual Exhibit:

3rd: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Chris Nicoletto

2nd: The Triumphs and Tragedies within the Culper Spy Ring

Nicolas Francis

1st: The Battle of Long Island: British Triumph-But Fight for Independence Stays Alive

Tim Kusterbeck

Individual Website:

2nd: Triumph and Tragedy of the Great Chicago Fire, 1871

Joanna Kasindorf

1st: Ceasefire of the Korean War

Paige Broderick

Group Website:

2nd: Ford Motor Company

JT Casamassima and Tyler Hotine

1st: The Inca and Pizarro: A Triumphant Society with a Tragic Ending

Rachel Morina and Emma Hannigan

Group Documentary:

3rd: Civil Abe

Isaac Joseph and James Masler

2nd: Rosalind Franklin: The End Before It Began

Anshi Paul and Aine Rimkunas

1st: The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japan in Ruins while America Prevails

Talia Addeo and McKenna Buffa

Senior Division Special Awards

African-American History Award:

The Scottsboro Trials: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Cassidy Casabona

American Labor History:

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory: The Burning and Rebuilding of American Industry

Tallulah Pitti and Ainsley Proctor

Asian-American History:

San Francisco Earthquake of 1906: Change Born from Tragedy

Olivia Conte and Jasjeet Kaur

Citizen Activist Award:

On the Inside: Nellie Bly Undercover in an Insane Asylum

Katherine Eichenberger

Entry Tied to Historical Site:

Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii

Bella DiBenedetto

Civil War History Award:

Rebel Yell! Union Soldiers in Retreat during the Tragedy of Bull Run

Henry Stein

Equality in History Award:

The Stonewall Riots: Tearing Down the Wall of Oppression at a Cost

Caelan Clayton and Charles Soljanich

Genocide, Bias, & Tolerance Award:

The Ku Klux Klan: America’s Plague

Ryan Miller, Michael Reed and Joseph Tonjes

History of Medicine Award:

First Do No Harm: How J. Marion Sims’ Experiments on Enslaved Women

Diya Rai-Gersappe

Immigration History Award:

Ellis Island and Medical Inspections

Katie Browne, Emily Geller and Christopher Maichin

Latino-American History Award:

From Saving Lives to Taking Many: Duvalier and His Legacy of Terror!

Cristy Elvir

Archives Award:

Virginia Hall: The Limping Lady’s Story of her Journey as a Spy

Jailyn Fuentes, Maren Grosso, Grace McKean and Alexa Rind

Military History Award:

The Vietnam War and the Effects of Agent Orange

Keenan Lyons, Shyann Maragh, Lily Stein and Grace Tyrrell

Native American History:

The Code to Victory: The Navajo Code Talkers

Chloe Buffone, Rebecca Hoffmann and Emily Roberts

Physical Sciences and Technology Award:

The Life and Death of Marie Curie

Grace Wildermuth

Sports History Award:

Wendell Scott: Racing Against Racial Barriers

Craig Haas

U.S. Constitution Award:

A Case of Impeding Justice for One and For Many: Korematsu v. United States

Chris Mavrogian and Justin Stevens

Women’s History:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Triumph and Tragedy in the Fight for Women’s Rights

Victoria Mangan and Mary Grace Rorke

Best Topic in Global History 9th Grade:

Mourning of Knowledge: The Tragedy of the Library of Alexandria

Harrison McKenna

Best Topic in Global History 10th Grade:

Pilgrim State Psych Center

Lauren Gooding and Gemma Pellegrini

Best Topic in American History 11th Grade:

“Can we all just get along?”: The Riots that Swept

Los Angeles

Nicholas Rowley and Bryce Vitulli

Clio Award:

Abstract Expressionism: Jackson Pollack

Catherine McCooey

Jack Abrams Local History Award:

Whaling America’s First Meritocracy

Ethan McGuinness

Principal’s Award:

The Courage of Love for Peace

Daniela Ramos and Daniela Weihskopf

Junior Division Group Performance category first place honorees Tess Markotsis and Emily Kustera.
Junior Division Group Performance category first place honorees Tess Markotsis and Emily Kustera.
National History Day participants were proud to stand alongside their projects. (Darin Reed photo.)
National History Day participants were proud to stand alongside their projects. (Darin Reed photo.)
Robert Jean-Gilles won first place in the Individual Performance category for his powerful portrayal of the Black Panthers. (Darin Reed photo.)
Robert Jean-Gilles won first place in the Individual Performance category for his powerful portrayal of the Black Panthers. (Darin Reed photo.)
This year's National History Day projects were sensational. (Darin Reed photo)
This year's National History Day projects were sensational. (Darin Reed photo)
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