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SAS Students Win at National History Day

By Kristina Doss
SAS Students Win at National History Day

On June 18, 2015, two Singapore American School (SAS) middle school teams won first and second place honors at the 41st annual National History Day (NHD) finals at the University of Maryland in College Park. They were seven out of 17 SAS students who were awarded the top two spots in the Jakarta regional competition, qualifying them for the finals. SAS’s middle school NHD Club is mentored by SAS social studies teacher, Behring Teacher Ambassador, and Understanding Sacrifice member Matthew Elms.
SAS students Sophia Datta, Thani Greco, and Madeleine Zemans were awarded first place in the Junior Group Exhibit category for their project “Rose Valland: Recovering Stolen Culture in France.” Callie Elms, Mehek Jain, Jada Li, and Madeleine Park won second place in the same category for their entry “Adding Pages to Sir Nicholas Winton’s Scrapbook.” This was the first time SAS or any school in Southeast Asia received the top prize. Funding was made available to the students to travel with their exhibits to the U.S. by the SAS Foundation, which is in turn supported by small and large gifts from parents, alumni, and friends.
NHD is a highly regarded non-profit academic program promoting the study of history. SAS is part of the International Schools - South Asia Affiliate, one of 58 affiliates created from the 50 U.S. states and other countries around the world. SAS students presented seven different projects related to the 2015 theme “Leadership and Legacy in History.” Among over 600,000 students in sixth through twelfth grades competing in the five competition categories of documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, and websites, only about 3,000 earn a chance to attend the weeklong event at University of Maryland, College Park.
Projects presented are the culmination of a year of extensive research and preparation. Each year, students select a project based on a theme. “We worked for several months both after school and in the time we were given in class to read, research, interview, draft, and ultimately build our project on a subject we were extremely passionate about. None of us had ever been challenged to think so deeply about a leader or a period in history, and Mr. Elms never hesitated to push us even further,” said Madeleine Zemans.
Zemans adds, “Our whole team experienced great challenges at one point or another—whether it was not being able to find a significant piece of information, contact an expert, or having a major time conflict—but we were always able to work through each challenge together and acquire information even more valuable to our project. Each of us brought different strengths to the table.”
The Winton exhibit group spoke on the phone with Hugo Marom, who was saved by Sir Nicholas Winton and became an Israeli pilot, in turn saving children from the genocide in Biafra. Group member Mehek Jain said, “Marom was inspired by Sir Nicholas Winton’s actions to save 30,000 children from Biafra. He was also very passionate about how brave the parents were to let their children go away to an unknown country with him in 1939. He wants to build a statue for these parents.” The students’ phone call with Marom reflects the ultimate goal of the NHD experience: it’s not about winning contests, but what and how students learn. Students gain a deep knowledge of history by tracking down primary sources, negotiating international calls, interviewing people, grappling with language barriers, and researching.
“Winning at NHD finals in the U.S. has given me confidence and opened doors for me, and I couldn’t be more thankful for this amazing opportunity. I enjoyed the experience so much that I joined NHD once again, and I hope to learn just as much as I did the last time,” said Jain.
“It’s tough to beat an SAS project,” said Matthew Elms. “While it is an amazing experience to win or place at a National History Day competition, the benefits of the program go far beyond any medal or prize. Students who participate learn how to research, to conduct interviews, to make historical analyses, and to work with a group. It’s about getting into the world to see that history is much more complex than anything we see in a textbook. Students learn to examine trends, connections, and relationships in history, gaining a sophisticated appreciation for the past and how it influences the future.”

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