Stuyvesant Holds National History Day Celebration

Stuyvesant held an award ceremony for National History Day participants on January 18, and it had performances, presentations, and documentaries displayed related to this year’s theme of “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas” by students from history teachers Mordecai Moore and Robert Sandler’s classes.

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By Khush Wadhwa

Stuyvesant hosted an award ceremony for National History Day (NHD) participants in the fifth-floor cafeteria on January 18. The ceremony was organized by the Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer Suri, and included performances, presentations, and documentaries by students from history teachers Mordecai Moore’s and Robert Sandler’s classes. NHD is a competition meant to encourage students to approach history in a creative and artistic way. Students were tasked with creating a project on a historical topic of interest related to this year’s theme of “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas,” which required over four months of preparation and research.

While the award ceremony at Stuyvesant was only among the Stuyvesant community, a panel of judges has selected three projects from each category to move on to the city competition, which is happening in February at the Brooklyn Public Library. “We had many judges […] including [award winning director] Amy Schatz, [as well as] professors, parents, and teachers,” Sandler said.

While only three projects were ultimately chosen to move forward for each category, Stuyvesant also presented honorary awards to recognize more participants. “Students received awards not just for second or third [place], but also for [miscellaneous categories] like best artistic exhibit, etc., to encourage students to continue even if they did not place to advance to [the city competition],” Moore said. These awards included Best Research Paper on Environmentalism, Best Project on LGBTQ+ Rights, and Best Documentary on a New York City Artist.

In total, 32 projects were awarded in some capacity. First-place winners included Ivy Huang in the Individual Research Paper category; Uma Sukhu, Medha Prasad, and Joy Cai in the Group Website category; Anastasia Lee in the Individual Website category; Britney Huang, Nozima Rahmatova, and Lillian Zou in the Group Documentary category; Fiona Huang for the Individual Documentary Film; Alan Chan, Zoe Chan, Abigail Jin, and Cindy Ye for the Group Exhibit Board category; and Winnie Gao in the Individual Exhibit Board category. A group performance by Carol Hon, Dylan Ma, William Tang, Lucas McGarvey, and Vanessa Chen, as well as an individual performance by Toby Oluwatobi, will also be moving forward.

The award ceremony also contained many in-person presentations, including a viewing of exhibit boards, the group performance “David Sarnoff: The Visionary of the Television Frontier,” and a viewing of the first-place documentary “The Star of the Mythic West: The Man Who Broke Frontiers.” There was also a keynote address from history teacher David Hanna regarding his recent book about new American frontiers, Broken Icarus: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the Golden Age of Aviation, and the Rise of Fascism. “We only performed a small snippet [of our performance] and there were some small technical difficulties, but we were glad we did it,” junior William Tang said. “We were thankful for the opportunity to get experience performing in front of a large audience.” Tang’s group based their performance on David Sarnoff, a pioneer of American television.

This was the first NHD celebration Stuyvesant students participated in since the beginning of the pandemic. While it is always difficult to organize a large project after some time, this year was especially difficult due to the challenging theme. “[The main difference every year] is usually just a different theme, but I think that this year’s theme was more difficult because [of its many possible interpretations],” Sandler said.

Sandler has been working with students on NHD for six years and decided to hold the contest again this year as he felt a personal obligation to give his students this opportunity. “I had kids go to nationals for [their] films, had kids present their films at the Smithsonian Museum of American History […], so I just felt like it’s a very beneficial experience [for] the students,” he said.

Sandler and Moore introduced the project in September and shortly started to work with their students. “By mid to late October, students were busy writing […] sets of 10 cards per source,” Moore said. “[Then] students would make an outline, […] a rough draft, and then eventually in December, they did a final version.”

Most importantly, students were able to express their creativity with this project as they were given a wide variety of different mediums—documentaries, exhibit boards, performances, and more. “It was a really flexible process and I had a lot of creative freedom,” junior Kikyo Makino-Siller said. “I chose an exhibit board because I thought it would be more fun than staring at my computer forever.” Makino-Siller’s project, “The Legacy of Upton Sinclair, Navigating the Frontier of Industrial America,” received third place in the individual exhibit board for its investigation of Upton Sinclair’s influence on the development of industrialism.

Depending on their project medium, students were given guidance and feedback specific to their project, from both their teachers and other advisors. “[Sandler] gave a lot of good feedback on performing as a group as well as team dynamics,” Tang said. “I got to really capture the enthusiasm and fun of [my topic].”

From the project, many students also learned new professional skills that would help them in the future. “It was a lot of work but rewarding to complete,” Makino-Siller said. “I learned how to organize a bunch of images and quotes, as well as how to reach out to institutions for research.”

While the teachers understand that the work involved with NHD is very taxing, most believe it is rewarding, as it helps students hone their historical research skills. “Sometimes I think that this contest is too much work and [then] I have moments [that are] really moving to see,” Sandler said. “[This project is] incredibly exhausting for me, but I feel that it can be really rewarding when it works out.”

Many teachers and faculty members were also impressed by the level of work presented by the students. “It’s something that our whole school should be proud of because we have many students that are going to be competing at the next level,” Hanna said. “I think they have a good shot going [further] and I wouldn’t be surprised if Stuyvesant students win prizes at the national level.”

Ultimately, both students and advisors found NHD to be very beneficial, and advisors are seeking to expand this opportunity in the future. “We're looking into the strong possibility of having [NHD] be a club where students can join even if they don’t have my [or another advisor’s] class and they want to participate in the event,” Moore said.