History Day: 31 students qualify for state competition

March 5, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira

31 SHS students and 11 total SHS entries have advanced to the state level of the 2015 National History Day competition, themed Leadership and Legacy, compared to just 12 students the year before.

Arms raised above her head, junior Jennifer Chen crouched low, imitating American primatologist Dian Fossey’s interactions with mountain gorillas. For her county level History Day performance on Feb. 28 at the Santa Clara County Department of Education, Chen used a live performance to demonstrate Dian Fossey’s revolutionary work with gorillas.

Chen, who has competed at the state level of the individual performance category every year since freshman year, is one of 31 SHS students and 11 total SHS entries to advance to the state level of the 2015 National History Day competition, themed Leadership and Legacy, compared to just 12 students the year before.

History Day participants are responsible for researching a topic of their choice, creating a website, documentary, paper or performance in either the individual or group categories and then having the chance to compete at the school, county, state and finally national levels. Students present their projects in front of a panel of judges and then answer questions. At the state and national levels, high-achieving projects in specific categories also receive cash prizes. For example, senior Max Chang won $200 for his project about Miranda rights last year.

Senior Mahir Jethanandani, who entered a group website about J.P. Morgan, said he thinks his project advanced to the state level because of the critical and frank feedback from his judges, history teacher Matt Torrens and school librarian Kevin Heyman.

“We are looking to make our project as competitive as possible for Nationals,” Jethanandani said. “Our group was highly critical of each other’s content and commitment, which in turn extracted the very best out of all of us.”

Jethanandani and his group, which includes seniors Nathan Fotedar, Neel Kattumadam, Vivek Murthy and Stephen Peng took the feedback from the county competition into consideration. They made their website more interactive by adding hyperlinks, multimedia connections, customizable HTML and more primary source documents. Additionally, the group incorporated a stronger tie to the theme.

“We chose iconoclast J.P. Morgan because in the welfare of the young United States, Morgan’s financial genius was radical for its time, making it an intriguing topic,” Jethanandani said. “We chose to shine history’s spotlight on someone outcasted and often thrown in the dark.”
In addition to student involvement in History Day, teachers at the school also dedicate their time to the competition.

History teacher Faith Stackhouse Daly, who will serve as the judge captain at the state competition, has been a judge since 1996, and has participated in the competition as either a contestant, judge or coordinator for the past 26 years. Her wealth of experience has been helpful in giving students suggestions and improvements that would help their entries advance to the state round.

According to Stackhouse Daly, Saratoga has sent at least one entry per year to Nationals in the past five years.

“This year we have a nice mixture of students with previous experience in History Day, as well as some students new to the competition,” Stackhouse Daly said. “I would imagine that Saratoga will be well-represented at the state competition.”

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