History buffs

School District sending unprecedented contingent to national competition

Girl power rocks. Especially when it comes to academics and history.

Six Bayonne girls are going to the History Day National Finals at the University of Maryland in College Park from June 15 to 19 to represent not only the city, not only the area, but the entire state.

The six students have shown their proficiency in the learning of history, research, interviewing, and exhibit creation, according to Dan Ward, director of English language arts, social studies, and library/media services for the Bayonne School District.

Ward said that the school system puts a strong emphasis on the teaching of history and that it has paid dividends with the students in this competition and in the overall learning of the subject by the broader student population.

Specifically, programs exist for the district’s 11th grade history, 9th grade honors social studies, and all eighth grade students.

Bayonne’s contingent of six students is impressive because only 16 students represent the Garden State at the annual competition.

This year, the Bayonne district achievers include three from Bayonne High School, two from Washington Community School, and one from Henry Harris School.

“The kids do really terrific work” and are deserving of their accolades, Ward said.

They have to select a topic that they can relate to the year’s theme (this year’s: “Rights and Responsibilities in History”), research it thoroughly and make some kind of presentation: a paper, display, documentary, or skit or other performance.

The high school finalists, all juniors, and their topics and their categories are: Casey Harrigan, “Miranda vs. Arizona: The Court Case That Forever Altered the Rights of the Accused and the Responsibilities of Law Enforcement,” Senior Individual Exhibits; Jessica Sulima, “Yellow Journalism during the Spanish-American War,” Senior Individual Exhibits; and Nicole Welna, “The Rights and Responsibilities of Solidarity Leaders and Collaborators in Poland 1945-1989,” Senior Individual Websites.

The grammar school finalists, all eighth graders, are Abigail Kowal and Jassie Morcos, Washington Community School, “The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast: Impact of the Magic Bullet,” Junior Group Websites; and Anna Rezk, Henry E. Harris School, “The Angel of the Battlefield: Clara Barton,” Junior Individual Performance.

Getting to the nationals was no easy task for the six students. They had to compete and win at the regional level at Princeton University on March 8.  They then had to face statewide competition at William Paterson University in Wayne on May 3.

“Our kids were at the library at Rutgers University to engage in primary source research. They went to the Princeton library,” Ward said. “They even set up an interview with a New Jersey Supreme Court justice.”

Harrigan, 17, a history advanced placement honors student, has competed in both her freshman and junior years. Her run to the nationals started with a research paper class project. It evolved into an exhibit for the regionals, and then an even bigger exhibit for the states.

She is working on her third board for the national competition, and will complete it this week.

Wanting a topic that focused on changing the rights of a group of people, she picked the Miranda vs. Arizona case from 1966, which the reading of arrestees’ rights evolved from.

“I felt that was a good theme, she said, “because it really altered the rights of individuals and it placed on law enforcement the responsibility to respect the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. And it protected individuals against self-incrimination.”

Harrigan is “absolutely” excited about her trip to the nationals, looking forward to seeing the other students’ projects and meeting students from other states and even other countries.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” she said. “I’ll be able to talk to people. Because with your exhibition, you have to present your project to people.”

Rezk, 14, the eighth grader at Henry Harris, was involved with the program last year, doing a group documentary with two other students. This year it’s an individual performance about Clara Barton.

Having reached the state level last year, the nationals were a nice progression for Rezk. But it meant a lot of hard work.

“This experience has definitely taught me about research,” she said. “I learned to go to places and research by myself. I learned how to format and cite sources.”

Only a few days removed from the competition, Rezk is on pins and needles—but good ones.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” she said. “Plus, I get four days off from school.”

Success: old and new

At the high school level, a student has represented New Jersey at the national finals in at least one category for five of the six last years. But this is the first year any of the city’s grammar school students have gone on to the nationals.

Great supporting cast

The district has been involved with the New Jersey National History Day program for the last 10 years, according to Edith Westpy, History Day coordinator.

Ward credited high school history teachers Tim Maset and Westpy with inspiring the students to achieve great results in the program.

“Since she has become coordinator of the program, we have more and more success each year,” he said. “More are going on to the state level, which is an honor in itself.”

E-mail joepass@hudsonreporter.com

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