The research team of Huntington High School juniors Andrew Knowles, Paul Katigbak, Ryan Knowles and Julien Rentsch is headed to the National History Day finals at the University of Maryland, College Park after garnering runner-up honors in the State History Day championships in Cooperstown earlier this week.
The four dynamic teenagers developed a spectacular group documentary project titled “Unit 731: The Unpunished Scientists Behind the Japanese Holocaust.”
The 10 minute documentary took viewers inside the secret Japanese World War II military unit that performed biological experiments on Chinese prisoners of war. A post-war agreement between the US government and the Japanese scientists kept them safe from criminal prosecution provided they share their research findings and related information about the experiments they carried out on their victims.
“We are excited to be attending the nationals again and look forward to the competition in June,” Mr. Rentsch said. “New York State History Day was a great experience and we are grateful to be moving on.”
Huntington High School social studies teacher Lauren Desiderio, who coordinates the district’s National History Day initiative was named the State History Day’s Teacher of the Year for her longtime dedication to the program.
“The results from the New York State History Day competition reflect the hard work our students have devoted over the course of this school year poring over resources and refining their research,” Mrs. Desiderio said. “Paul, Andrew, Ryan and Julien have worked tirelessly on their project since September and have continued to edit it throughout the last three levels of competition. I’m impressed not only with their unwavering dedication to the National History Day program, but over the course of the last three years they have truly mastered the craft of historical documentary-making. The captivating documentary they created on the atrocities that occurred at the hands of those in Unit 731 reflects the same caliber of documentaries found on the History Channel. I’m thrilled that they are returning to the national competition this year and I am so proud of all they have accomplished.”
This will mark the second trip to the National History Day finals for these four sensational Huntington juniors. They vied in last year’s championships with a project titled “Diplomatic Relations on Trial: The First Spy Exchange of the Cold War.” It told the story behind the release of accused American spy Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War in 1960. Mr. Powers was captured and interrogated for months. The Soviets convicted him of spying in a show trial. He was eventually released during a prisoner exchange over a bridge in Berlin.
The Huntington teenagers were thrilled with their performance in Cooperstown. “The atmosphere at New York History Day this year was very competitive,” Mr. Katigbak said. “When we learned that we would be going on to Maryland for the national finals, we grew excited at the thought of being able to represent New York for the second time.”
The Huntington project team was on top of its game earlier this week. “The competition this year was pretty tough,” Andrew Knowles said. “I’m really thankful we were able to move on and I’m looking forward to a good time at the nationals. I’m also really happy for Mrs. Desiderio winning the Teacher of the Year Award. She definitely deserves it.”
The national finals are set for June 9-13 at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“In seeing these four boys go to nationals two years in a row, I must say it is a true testament not only to their intense work and strong ability to reveal the historical narratives that need to be told, but also it speaks to the strength of our district’s program in teaching history from middle school on through the high school experience where any student so interested can achieve on this level,” said Joseph Leavy, the district’s chairman of humanities, 7-12.
Group Website Project Team
The group website project team consisting of Erin Ye, Andrew McKenzie, Valerie Rogel and Ella Siepel also vied in Cooperstown with their entry titled Federal Regulations After Devastation: How Nations Recovered from the Thalidomide Tragedy. Unfortunately, the group was unable to qualify for the national finals.
“Despite not moving on, to have gone to the State History Day competition was alone an amazing experience,” Ms. Rogel said. “National History Day has provided us with so many opportunities and has opened our eyes to countless academic possibilities.”
The four splendid students had earlier captured second place in the Long Island regional competition. “National History Day was extremely rewarding and I am proud of the success we had as a team,” said Ms. Ye after arriving back home from Cooperstown. “I’m already looking forward to next year and will be sure to use all I have learned so far. I wish the best of luck to the group from Huntington that is advancing to the national finals.”
All of the participants were thrilled that Mrs. Desiderio was named the State History Day Teacher of Year after the many long hours she has devoted to Huntington’s National History Day initiative over the years.
“The state teacher award bestowed upon Lauren Desiderio is a representation of how truly dedicated she and our full department are to this program,” Mr. Leavy said.