Jayna A. Snyder and Carolyn M. Wasser won the junior group exhibit competition with their project, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man: Education or Cultural Extermination?”
The 14-year-olds each garnered $500 prizes.
The achievement was Kutztown Middle School’s best-ever showing in the competition, said Betty L. Imboden, a gifted-support teacher who has advised National History Day competitors for a decade.
The district has competed about that long.
“This is the first time … that we walked across the stage for anything in the top three, let alone first,” Imboden said.
The highest the middle school previously placed was fourth.
Adding to the district’s success, two Kutztown High School projects finished in the top three in their categories.
Elsa Voytas, Andrew Velik and Emily Stevens took second in senior group exhibit with their project, “The Grape Boycott: Conflict in the Fields, Compromise for Workers’ Rights.”
And Erica S. Yurvati earned third in senior individual exhibit for her project, “This is My War, Too: The Challenges of Creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.”
The topic of Snyder and Wasser’s exhibit – chosen for its obscurity – was the Carlisle Indian School, established in 1879 in Cumberland County as a place where American Indians were taught to assimilate into U.S. culture.
Hundreds of other schools were modeled after the Carlisle school, where Indians were forced to cut their hair and change their names.
The nonprofit National History Day began its competition in 1984. It is like a science fair for history projects.
Students compete in two divisions – junior and senior – and can enter in five categories: exhibits, performances, documentaries, Web sites and research papers.
About 2,500 students competed in the national contest at the University of Maryland.
“To be recognized at the national level is a very big deal,” said Noah R. Shaw, technology and public affairs associate for National History Day.
Snyder and Wasser agree.
“They said ‘Kootztown,’ ” Snyder said, recalling the awards ceremony. “I actually screamed, and I kind of just sat there stunned.
“Being eighth-graders and winning first in the nation for a history project, I think that’s so cool.”
For Yurvati, doing well at nationals was bittersweet.
Her father, Bill A., died of leukemia days after she won a regional competition in March. Bill, a former Kutztown School Board member, had guided his daughter in researching and building her project.
“I know that he would be really happy and really proud of me,” said Erica Yurvati, who will be a sophomore.
Yurvati, Snyder and Wasser all started their projects last summer.
For theirs, Snyder and Wasser had six notebooks and three milk crates full of research. They traveled to Carlisle five times and conducted a two-hour interview with Dr. Robert Utley, an expert on the Carlisle school.
Then they began piecing it all together.
The rest, as they say, is history.
•Contact reporter Michelle Park at 610- 371-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.