Saratoga makes history at History Day

June 1, 2009 — by Alicia Lee and Maggie Lin

While most juniors were taking their SATs the morning of May 2, juniors Cindy Chang, Layla Daryan, Vicki Ni, Karen Wai, Erika Ye and Haley Zarrin were in Sacramento, serving up a hot slice of history.

The Constitutional Rights Foundation hosted its annual History Day Competition on May 2. AP United States history and world geography teacher Matt Torrens calls History Day “a research project hosted by the national competition of research projects,” emphasizing the seriousness and degree of work done for the project.

This year’s theme was “The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies.” Participants chose a topic, made a thesis for it and used a project to prove their point. The competition is offered to students in fourth through 12th grade.

Categories for projects included writing a historical paper, exhibit, performance, documentary and web site. Judging was based on three categories: historical quality, adherence to theme and quality of presentation.

Although Saratoga High had the best results this year out of the six years the school has participated, Torrens still deals with problems of motivation.

“[Turnout] has always been low. It’s because I only teach juniors and freshmen and it’s difficult for freshmen to write a history research paper in geography,” said Torrens. “The juniors I teach are all taking my AP class along with others so they’re stretched pretty thin. If I didn’t offer extra credit, no one would do it.”

For the participants, their rigorous schedules were already filled with academics as well as other extracurricular activities, making it difficult to spend time on their projects.

“At one point we stayed up to two in the morning [working on the project],” said Daryan.
Daryan and Zarrin chose to do a group competition together and put a great amount of work into their exhibit about architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chang, on the other hand, opted for an individual project on famed photographer George Eastman, a decision she made while flipping through a photo album.

“I was tired of doing schoolwork one day and decided to look through some photo albums,” said Chang. “I remember back then, when my mom would use her bulky black Kodak camera to take pictures instead of the digital cameras we have today, and started feeling nostalgic.”

She decided to further her interest by researching the history of photography and why people use it to record their memories. After searching the internet, she finally decided on George Eastman.
Chang, like Daryan and Zarrin, dedicated significant time to her project and had to deal with her own set of challenges.

Originally, Chang had planned on writing a research paper but switched to doing an exhibit. It took her many sleepless nights to make the display board, especially since she had to remake it because it was too heavy the first time.

At many other schools, especially in Southern California, teachers are greatly involved with the process, with school districts heavily funding the competition. Students here, however, are much more independent.

“I just did very, very little as far as guiding them and I let them come to their own conclusions and make their own presentations,” said Torrens. “All things considered, our kids were able to compete really well as all three groups competed strongly in the [most popular] exhibits category.”

Hard work paid off for Chang as she was chosen for semifinals, making her a potential candidate for the final round to participate in the national competition. However, after the next round where judges reviewed the semifinal group again, Chang was not selected to move onto nationals.

“I thought I had done a good job, but didn’t expect to make it into the semifinal round just because there were so many other really good displays,” Chang said. “Although I didn’t make it to nationals, I’m satisfied.”

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