by Lisa Ladd-Wilson
Hippies, Martin Luther King Jr., Earth First!ers, the family of Karen Ann Quinlan, Al Capone, Thomas Paine.
A random string of dissimilar names? Or all persons who carved a niche in history by taking a stand for something in which they believed? You be the judge.
Actually, you can't be the judge: The judging already has been held, high atop Humboldt State University in Founders Hall on March 9. That was History Day for Humboldt County students in grades six through 12, the day they set up their three-dimensional displays, presented their 1,500-word papers or performed their homage to a historical figure of choice. It was the day they found out if their stuff was good enough to take to the state finals in May.
More than 270 students from 21 schools were entered in the History Day contest and its History Fair counterpart (a strictly local competition for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders). Forty-four entries were received for the first-ever "Northcoast Homepage Contest," a new History Day feature wherein students create history-related Web sites. When it all was over, the judges had selected 30 winners eligible to travel to Sacramento May 9-12, courtesy of fund raisers and North Coast Rotarians.
In the week leading up to the big day, though, it was anybody's to win. On the Friday prior, students in Ed Cotter's class at the Osprey Learning Center in Garberville were putting the finishing touches on their entries.
The theme for this year's History Day was "Taking a Stand in History: Individuals, Groups and Movements." Jovan Pree-Carr never considered doing a project on anyone other than Martin Luther King Jr.
"When I was in fourth grade I had to do a report on a famous person," Jovan said as she took a break from Cotter's sixth-through-eighth-grade class. "My family always had talked about (King) and what he did, so I did a report on him.
"I wanted to do (King) again for my (History Day) project."
Pree-Carr, 13, lived in Los Angeles when she was in fourth grade; in the middle of her fifth-grade year her family moved to Humboldt County. She is the only African American in Cotter's class. How different is Garberville from L.A?
Jovan laughed and rolled her eyes. "It's totally different," she said. "I say, 'Do you like rap?' And they say, 'What's rap?' And then they say, 'Do you like country?' And I say, 'What's country?'"
But her classmates did know some things about King -- even some things Jovan didn't know. And she was able to teach them a little, too.
Jovan's project wasn't the only History Day entry from Osprey that examined the life of an African American: Her classmates Moriah Sevier and Apol (pronounced "apple") Edwin, both 12, decided to focus on Malcolm X, although he wasn't their first choice.
"We picked Hitler first," said Moriah, a seventh-grader with long, straight, blonde hair, "but he was mean and we decided he wouldn't be as much fun to do."
Because he was a negative historical figure? "Yes," agreed Apol. They also had heard a few negative things about Malcolm X -- "That he was bad and then converted through his religion," Apol offered -- but it didn't dissuade them from their project.
The two girls -- who punctuated their introductions with a complaint about the lack of seventh-grade boys in their class -- researched their subject through four books. They constructed a miniature speaking hall similar to the one in which Malcolm X was assassinated, complete with red velvet curtains and a podium, and they populated it with dolls both borrowed and hand-crafted.
Their biggest disappointment seemed to be that they hadn't been able to see Spike Lee's film on the slain civil rights leader.
One of Ed Cotter's History Day disappointments was that seventh-grader Hans Goldman wasn't interested in taking his project to the HSU competition. Hans -- "Be sure to mention he's a nearly straight-A student," Cotter said -- had reached further back in history than most of his classmates, delving into the whys and wherefores of the First Crusade (1096-1144).
Although Hans' display featured a catapult-type weapon, a "barrel machine," built from popsicle sticks and tin foil, his research seemed far more substance than style. He readily discussed the motivations of the movement -- from its religious bigotry to land grabbing -- and the Christian mission statement that gave it its sheen. So why wasn't he entering his project in the March 9 competition?
"I like to sleep in on Saturday," he said.
Other Osprey students completing projects this Friday morning included Leah Harrison, who had chosen the topic "Taking a Stand for the Redwoods"; Pat McCormack, who with classmate Chris Nicholson examined the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting; and Sam Bruebacker and Ryan Floyd, who had chosen "People in the '60s (Hippies)." (How had hippies "taken a stand in history"? Sam and Ryan weren't certain -- possibly because, one of them acknowledged, they found the entire process "boring.")
Cotter's students faced stiff competition: More than 90 entries were received in the junior category of sixth-through-eighth grades. The numbers were less daunting for high-school students -- only 28 entries were received in the senior division of the contest.
That was a little disheartening for Dee McBroome, the HSU history professor who has been coordinating History Day here since 1992, when she took over from colleague Bill Tanner. As she reviewed this year's entries in her office last month, McBroome also noted the disparity in participation between outlying schools and city schools.
"The rural schools always participate more than the city schools," she said.
Mattole, Honeydew, Kneeland, Orick, Maple Creek -- all were represented by a number of students. By comparison, only one Eureka school was entered in the junior category -- Grant Elementary -- and there was a single Eureka High School entry -- a home-study student -- in the senior competition (high schools represented were Arcata, McKinleyville, Mattole Triple Junction, St. Bernard and South Fork).
Students from Bob Fisher's afternoon social studies class at Arcata High School offered one possible reason for low turnout at the senior level: Although their projects might stack up well in the local competition, they feel they don't stand much of a chance against students from bigger-city schools down south.
"We have old books, old computers ..." said Gus Schillinger as he sat in the student activity room of Arcata High. Classmate Quincy Hawkins echoed his sentiments.
Both knew a bit of what they spoke: Quincy had gone to the state competition of the Science Fair when she was in the seventh grade; Gus' brother went to Sacramento for History Day.
Gus had crafted an entry on Thomas Paine for a History Day competition when he was an eighth-grader at Jacoby Creek School. In his eyes that paper didn't get a fair shake by the judges.
"I only got a 'Good,' and I felt it was better than that," Gus said. "I read some of the other papers, some that won, and I felt my paper was better."
Now as a junior at Arcata High School he had re-entered the piece -- albeit more researched, more polished than the original.
Quincy wrote a paper on Jane Addams and her crusade against child labor, after abandoning research on Eliot Ness.
"I couldn't find much on him," she said.
Which would have rankled the legendary crime fighter, especially since Quincy's classmate Maiwand Ehsan had found plenty of information for his paper about "Al Capone: The Hero, the Man, the Gangster."
"He was a hero to many kids growing up, especially Italian kids," said Maiwand, slumped so far down in his seat that his backwards cap was in danger of flipping over the chair back. "He was a good person to be friends with. He was very family-oriented."
Did anyone suggest Capone was a controversial topic?
"Yeah, Mr. Fisher suggested I do something else," Maiwand said, but he decided to stick with Capone.
Amita Khazanie knew the subject of euthanasia was controversial, too, but as an aspiring medical student she has been fascinated with the right-to-die debate. She was unfamiliar with Karen Ann Quinlan before beginning her paper; she decided to focus on that case after reading about the Quinlan family's battle to disconnect life-support machinery from their comatose daughter. Amita subtitled her paper "A Struggle for a Peaceful Life."
Amita went into the project with the belief that people have a right to end their lives under certain conditions; she finished the piece with even more conviction. Now, she said, she even would like to write the Quinlans and possibly send her paper to them.
It is 10 a.m. on History Day, and Founders Hall is crawling with people: students, parents, teachers and judges mill about; a table at the front entrance offers coffee and pastries for sale; and Dee McBroome hurries from room to room.
In the Green and Gold Room both senior and junior group projects are being judged. Travis Schneider, Nick Gai and Mark Vallee of Arcata High School are standing at their display of the Butler Valley Dam, a local issue that was hotly debated and eventually voted down in the early '70s. A History Day worker is videotaping their discussion of the event.
Jovan Pree-Carr is very quiet. She is in the hallway outside, waiting to be called by the judges who will pepper her with questions about Martin Luther King Jr. She seems anxious, and unlike her demeanor at Osprey the day before, she won't break into a smile.
By contrast, Moriah Sevier and Apol Edwin are running about excitedly. They are near their judging time, and when a photographer shows up to take their picture Moriah goes into mock shock at the lack of a hair brush. She jumps up and down, grabs Ed Cotter's sleeve and then feigns fainting.
The historical papers are in a much less active room, where they lie unceremoniously on tables, bearing stickers that say "Excellent" or "Good." By 10 a.m. they already have been judged, but a mix-up with one school's entries requires a review of the junior papers.
Gus Schillinger's reworked entry on Thomas Paine, "Taking a Stand With Common Sense," is stamped "Excellent." One of the three judges also wrote "Great!" on the grading sheet. Amita Khazanie's paper on the Quinlan case also received high marks all around.
A room monitor is asked, Which papers won the senior division? She doesn't know. Bill Tanner, who started History Day at HSU in 1981, walks into the room, but he doesn't have a list of the winners, either. "Ask Dee McBroome," he says, but McBroome already has whisked by, disappearing into a fog of people.
The Northcoast Homepage Contest is being evaluated in the Founders Hall computer lab upstairs, where judges have been scanning the 44 Web site entries since 7:30 a.m. There is one that Dee McBroome later says "was hard for us to turn away from ... because it was just outstanding." It is "The History of Reggae on the River," a colorful, Rasta-filled stop on the information highway created by Steve Brennan and Tai Luxon of South Fork High School.
This first year the Web pages are being evaluated as part of History Day's existing media category, but next year, McBroome says, they probably will be in a category of their own, called "electronic resource." Like all History Day entries, the homepages can go on to Sacramento if they win locally; however, there are additional prizes for them here, as well -- including a fully equipped computer for the winners' school. (None of the Web pages won the media category, but Steve and Tai's entry brought home a new computer for South Fork High.)
Back at the Green and Gold Room, Moriah and Apol have finished their judging ordeal. They say it went "good." It was "fine." They tell simultaneous stories about a question that stumped them and Apol giggles, but they're satisfied with their performance overall. And Moriah had found a hair brush.
Here are the History Day winners in the junior and senior divisions, listed in order of first, second and third place, and with their school.
Some categories have fewer than three winners. All first- and second-place students are eligible to travel to Sacramento for state finals in May.
Historical papers: Danny Huddleston, Mattole School; Ciara Hunt, Jacoby Creek School; Maya Kessler, Jacoby Creek School.
Individual projects: Marika Smith, Mattole School; Katie Musick, Kneeland Elementary; Mary Beth Lee, Pacific Union.
Group projects: Kiah Allen, Sean Stamm, Honeydew School; Jade Rathman, Sara Berti, Oly Frank, Mattole School; Justin Hindley, Lucas McCannless, Michael Dolfini, Jeff Holmes, Jim Cook, Ferndale Elementary.
Individual performance: Ben Brown, Mattole School; Aaron Batt, Maple Creek School; Peter Lisle, Pacific Union.
Group performance: Dinae Horne, Liz Fairchild, Big Lagoon School; Diego Rail, Alanna Dutra, Pacific Union; Chris Gilda, Shaweh Harijan, Chandra Lawrence, Julia Aurea, Dawn Williams, Mattole School.
Individual media: Robert Soos, Honeydew School.
Group media: Mary Carmen Zaragosa, Molly Allen, Big Lagoon School; Alexis Olsen, Karis Wright, Pacific Union.
Historical papers: Gus Schillinger, Arcata High; Sara Fuel, Mattole Triple Junction High; Amita Khazanie, Arcata High.
Individual projects: Alyssa Stamm, Arcata High; Raymond Robinson, Arcata High; Chris Phelps, Eureka High home study.
Group projects: Brian Malloy, Brandon Larson, St. Bernard's High; Travis Schneider, Nick Gai, Mark Vallee, Arcata High; Don Sells, Josh Killion, Rachel Turkis, St. Bernard's High.
Individual performance: Zevon Odelberg, Arcata High; Julie Raich, Arcata High.
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