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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2012

Taking a stand: Seven GCSD students to compete at National History Day
By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — History is being made at Guilderland.

This year, more Guilderland entrants in the state level competition for History Day will proceed to the national level than ever before.

Half of the 14 Guilderland students who competed at the state finals in Cooperstown on April 24 are now eligible for the national competition at the University of Maryland from June 10 to 14. Entrants must have come in first or second at the state level to qualify. Three individuals and a pair of Farnsworth Middle School students along with a pair of Guilderland High School students qualified.

The victories are particularly sweet for the students’ advisor, Deborah Escobar, since her job as enrichment teacher was originally slated to be cut from next year’s budget. A groundswell of support from students and parents preserved the $70,000 post as well as a similar post at the elementary level.

“I’m thrilled,” said Escobar this week. “A lot of these kids were among those who staged support for the program. It goes beyond what the school could offer in classes. A lot of the work is at the college level.”

The theme for this year’s History Day competition was “Revolution, reaction, and reform.” “Students could address all three or just do one or two,” said Escobar.

The Guilderland students going to nationals are:

— Sean Quinn from Farnsworth, who won first place for his documentary on the Green Revolution, describing how Norman Borlaug came up with ways to increase crops that staved off communism in the midst of the Cold War by keeping people fed;

— Sarah Jones, a Farnsworth student who came in second for her website on Eleanor Roosevelt’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last year, she was third in the state for her project on the Yalta Conference;

— Abigail Bemis from Farnsworth, who placed first for her research paper on the battle between John Rockefeller and Ida Tarbell over the monopoly of Standard Oil;

— Lindsey Garrant and Naomi Carter, both Farnsworth students, who came in second for their website on the fashion reforms inspired by Coco Chanel; and

— Abigail Schnoor and Lixenbei Jing, Guilderland High School students, for their exhibit on the United States Constitution and the debate over the Bill of Rights, which they displayed in a three-dimensional exhibit shaped like Independence Hall.

Additionally, high school student Cody Ingraham won third place for his performance as Ben Franklin.

And, Sean Quinn also won a special award from the Hanford Mills Museum for an outstanding entry that explores the impact of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, technology, energy generation, natural resources, or sustainability of rural life.

Other Farnsworth students who participated in the state contest were Jordyn Sommo and Samantha Stern, Matt Kinnally, Will Wang, and Jonah Goldstein.  Other high school students were Zoe Elwell and Michelle Kang.

Upping the ante

Escobar’s students begin in September, brainstorming ideas for topics. Once they’ve selected a topic, they do background reading and, by December, they have to come up with a thesis statement. “They have to make an argument to prove it,” said Escobar, “and find sources to support it.”

She went on, “A thesis statement can even be hard for a Ph.D. They’re looking for a specific approach, not a general statement. They have to use their own analysis for that; it’s not like an encyclopedia. They take a stand. It’s upped the ante.”

Escobar has stressed thesis development for two years now. “Last year, three went to nationals,” she said. “Once they’re given these tools, they stop floundering and can just go to town.”

Escobar teaches her students how to find sources, but then the students work on their own. Each put in well over 100 hours of work, she estimated. “They work with me every Wednesday on skills building,” she said.

After the regional competition in March, the students edit and revise their projects for the state competition, and will do so again for the national competition.

“The biggest hurdle they face is sometimes the judges think someone else did it, but it’s all their own work,” said Escobar.

The students are now selling Hoffman’s Car Wash tickets as a fund-raiser to help pay for the trip to Maryland. Escobar will pay the registration fees — of $100 each — from district funds she has been allotted.

“It’s a lifetime experience,” she said of the national competition. “It’s something they’ll never forget.”

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