BV middle schoolers make history at national competition

Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Alyssa Reed (left) and Issy Knapik portrayed scientists Pierre and Marie Curie at the national contest for National History Day in June at the University of Maryland in College Park. Md.
Submitted photo

Berryville Middle School students Issy Knapik and Alyssa Reed made history this summer, becoming the first Berryville students to compete at the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.

National History Day is a nonprofit education organization based in College Park, Md., that offers year-long academic programs that engage more than a half million middle and high school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Students enter these projects at the local and affiliate levels, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland.

Last year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History,” and Knapik and Reed chose to do a group performance on scientists Marie and Pierre Curie. Knapik portrayed Marie, who won a Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry, and Reed portrayed Pierre, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife.

“I had actually never heard of Marie Curie before,” Reed said.

“Me neither,” said Knapik, “but we wanted to do our project on a scientist, most likely a female one. So we looked them up, and she appeared in our search.”

Reed said their performance piece explored the life of Marie Curie, focusing on her time in college in Paris, how she became a scientist, her scientific studies and the challenges of being a woman in the filed of science during that time.

The students won second place in the Junior Group Performance division of the state National History Day competition in April at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, qualifying for the National Contest at the University of Maryland in June.

Knapik said it felt really good to make it to nationals.

“After we won at state, I lost my voice because I was screaming so much,” she said. “It was exciting.”

“It was kind of unreal for me that I actually got to go to Maryland,” Reed said, “because that was my first big trip.”

To prepare for nationals, Reed said they had to practice the script for their performance a lot. Knapik said they also had to work on their bibliography, compiling a list of websites, books and documents they had used for their research.

Knapik said she and Reed became friends while working on the project together.

“We weren’t really friends before. They said we needed to be in a group of at least two people for the project,” Knapik said, “so we paired up.”

Gifted and talented teacher Delene McCoy said she had encouraged her students to group up with someone they had not worked with before.

“Through that, I think they really formed a great relationship and became friends,” McCoy said.

The National Contest was very different form the previous competitions, Knapik said.

“It was a lot harder since we were some of the youngest people there,” she said. “It was mostly high schoolers.”

McCoy said the students were competing against many older competitors.

“National History Day is really international because there were students there from all over the world,” she said, “and less than 1 percent of students who actually participate in National History Day worldwide make it to the University of Maryland for nationals.”

McCoy continued, “For these young ladies to be 11 years old and compete at regionals and then state and then getting to that national level was quite an experience for them. We lived on the campus of the University of Maryland for a week, so they got that college experience, too.”

Knapik said that the students competing at nationals got buttons representing their state or country and were encouraged to trade them with students from other areas.

“We ran out,” Reed said.

“Each of us had buttons from almost every state and country,” Knapik said. “We got almost all of them.”

While in Maryland, they said they also got to explore the surrounding area, including Baltimore and sites in Washington such as the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol.

“We made two trips into D.C.,” McCoy said. “We got a guided tour of the Kennedy Center. It was great. We also got a private guided tour of the Capitol from Sen. John Boozman’s office. We really experienced a lot while we were there.”

Knapik said she was impressed by how beautiful Maryland is and how big it is.

“When we were flying over Maryland to get to the airport, we spent almost an hour of our trip just flying over Baltimore,” she said. “It was big.”

“I liked when we went to this water taxi in Baltimore,” said Reed, “and spent the day on the harbor.”

McCoy said the students placed among the top half of the competitors at the National Contest. Both Knapik and Reed said they plan to compete in National History Day again this school year. The new theme, McCoy said, is “Conflict and Compromise,” which her students will be exploring this year.

“I’m very proud of Issy and Alyssa and all of their hard work,” she said. “Hard work does pay off.”

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