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Los Alamos students take their innovation to the highest level

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By Kirsten Laskey

Whether it was developing a Web site or filming a documentary, looking into Los Alamos’ past or studying Montessori education, Los Alamos students explored the theme “Innovation in History: Impact in Change.” As a result, students created their own innovations and made impacts on local history.

Los Alamos High School students Shannon Burns, Lizzie Wasilewska, Ellen Rabin, Caley DeNevers and Emily McClenahan earned top places in the senior division at the History Day State Competition, which was held April 23 at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Additionally, Chamisa Elementary School sixth-grader Jonathan Salazar earned second place in the junior division of the state competition.

Burns earned first place for her 10-minute documentary on the atomic bomb and Wasilewska earned second place for her documentary on Thorazine.

DeNevers earned third place for her performance piece on Montessori education and McClenahan received first place for her exhibit on punch cards.

Meanwhile, Salazar earned his second place finish with his Web site, “Acequias: An Innovative Way to Conserve Water.”

Not only did these students receive medals for being the top finishers in the state but they earned the opportunity to take their projects to the National History Day competition, which will be June 14-16 at the University of Maryland.

“I’m thrilled; everybody did such an incredible job,” said Allen Andraski, LAHS teacher and sponsor of the high school competitors. “These kids just worked their butts off putting these projects together.”

This is not their first venture into the state competition – the LAHS students have competed multiple times.

“To an extent, it is just the way my brain works,” Burns said. She added that the history competition is similar to science fair; however, the history competition has more branches for entries and gives more opportunity for creativity.

“It’s that freedom and opportunity to explore … (that’s) what keeps driving me back,” she said.

Wasilewska added, “It was really fun doing all the research ... (my subject) is not well documented as far as secondary resources go. (So) it’s fun to look at primary research (and it’s) fun putting it together as a documentary.”

McClenahan commented, “It’s really neat being able to dig deeper (than what is in a textbook). It’s something you don’t get to do that often.”

The experience is valuable, but it takes a lot of work, Andraski said. “We really got a core group of kids who are dedicated to the whole process. (That’s) really what it takes. It’s a lot of work.”

He added, “ I think personally, in today’s day and  age where education is oftentimes a struggle in more ways than one, it’s really a pleasure to work with kids who are so motivated and so thrilled to be involved in the intrinsic value of education … it’s very uplifting and rewarding.”  

Salazar knows first-hand what the competition requires. His Gifted ant Talented (GATE )teacher, Adelaide Jacobson, said, “He had an hour to two hours a week to work on it since September. I know he did a lot of work on it at home.”

Salazar was the novice history day competitor. Jacobson explained his fifth-grade GATE teacher Debby Elliott encouraged her students to participate in the competition. Salazar was one of two students who followed her suggestion.

Everyone – from the students to the teachers encouraged others to get involved in the competition.

“Within all the hard work, it’s a lot of fun … and they can really improve their abilities in terms of doing research, and it’s a real supportive community that we have for them. (Plus) you never know what could come out of it,” Andraski said.

DeNevers commented, “To me, history is important; it’s fascinating, it’s a lot of fun.”

She added the competition allows participants to find a topic they are interested in, develop a project on that interest and look in depth about the subject.

Jacobson said, “It is certainly a wonderful way to learn researching skills, researching on a historical topic and then to have multiple ways for how one’s learning can be shared with others.”

According to the National History Day Web site, students choose a historical topic related to a theme that changes every year. They research this topic through secondary and primary research. These sources are analyzed and interpreted and a conclusion will be drawn.  Students can present their work either in a paper, exhibit, performance, documentary or Web site.