Sequim Middle School students continue to show their smarts on a big stage.
This year, four bright girls compete June 11-16 for the National History Day Competition at the University of Maryland.
Alexandra Stuart-Lovell, 13, won first place at the state competition in Bellevue to advance to nationals for her historical paper on Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Kailee Price, 13, and Cecilee Wech, 14, won first for their exhibit on Typhoid Mary or Mary Mallon, a carrier of typhoid fever.
Katie Stevenson, 14, won second place for her individual performance on Japanese internment on the West Coast during World War II.
Their teacher, Tricia Billes, 2010 Public Broadcasting System’s Teacher of Merit, saw her prediction come true that some of her students would advance to the national stage for consecutive years. She had 34 students from her Challenge Class and History Day Club compete regionally and 15 go to state. In 2010, three Sequim eighth-grade boys, Bill Koenig, Wesley Gilchrist and James Reis, went to the national competition.
Price and Wech already have a head start because they had to mail their six-foot-tall, nearly 50-pound display board to the competition early to ensure it’d be there.
“Just getting there is quite an accomplishment,” Price said about leaving for the capital.
Wech said it was nerve-racking waiting until the last award at state to find out they won a first place to go to nationals. “We didn’t think we were going to get it until they said it and then we jumped up and our little group shouted,” she said.
Stevenson, who does a performance with multiple characters about the U.S.’s West Coast Japanese internments during World War II, said competing makes her nervous already but the feeling escalated during one of her state performances because the fire alarm went off, forcing the building to be evacuated.
Students said they’ve been working on their projects since Christmas break and found they put in a lot of effort.
“But it’s worth it,” Wech said.
Price said Billes encourages their efforts and tells them that their knowledge in research will help them in high school and college.
After researching in places like the library at the University of Washington and exhibits in the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle, the four girls all have changed their presentations dramatically since starting, which they believe is for the better.
“You aren’t telling the past but analyzing it and relating it to today,” Stevenson said.
She’s related her presentation to racial profiling stemming from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2011. Price and Wech compared the typhoid outbreak to the AIDS epidemic.
Stuart-Lovell said she focused her paper more as she researched and went to competitions. She found good sources at the university level and learned more about Beecher Stowe and her diplomatic process toward ending slavery.
Stevenson said she found many local sources on internment camps, including a Seattle woman who saw her father forced to leave due to the events after Pearl Harbor. She also discovered plenty of newspaper articles on the happenings and found propaganda videos online that said local Japanese people went willingly, though in reality it was against their wills.
Stevenson learned her grandfather remembered being scared of the attacks and her dad’s great-grandfather patrolled streets in Vancouver, British Columbia, looking for Japanese.
Price and Wech reached out to health officials locally and nationwide and other experts, including Judith Walzer Leavitt, author of “Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health.” They are waiting to hear back from other health officials for last-minute details.
Wech said if they were to do things differently with the typhoid fever outbreak and Mallon’s situation, they would have educated her about the disease and taken her out of the food industry and into a safer job with a similar wage.
All that’s left, the girls said, is working on their annotated bibliographies for all their research and practicing their interview skills.
For more on National History Day, visit www.nationalhistoryday.org.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.