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West Valley City Journal

History repeats itself: nine students make Washington, D.C. competition

Jul 28, 2017 12:38PM ● By Travis Barton

Alai Finau (left), Lema Save and Charity Ralphs took first for their group website on Odette Sansom. Students are allowed to make adjustments to their projects after each round of judging. (Mary Anne Stevens/ Kennedy Jr. High)

A year ago, Kennedy Jr. High qualified three students for the National History Day Competition in Washington, D.C. This year, they tripled that number. 

Nine students (three groups of three) finished in the top two places of their category at the Utah History Day Competition qualifying them for the trip to the District of Columbia.  

“I was really excited to see all of that hard work paid off for them,” said Stasha Wheeler, social studies teacher at Kennedy Jr. High. 

Two of the groups created websites while the third wrote their own play. 

Alai Finau, Charity Ralphs and Lema Save took first in the group website category on Odette Sansom, a spy who was caught during World War II passing information on the Nazi regime to the British government. 

Tessa Condie, Abigayle Goodfellow and Azlynne Myler finished second in the group website category (meaning both qualifying spots for this category went to Kennedy Jr. High) for their project on United flight 93 and the people who kept the plane from crashing into the Pentagon on 9/11. 

“It’s pretty incredible that we placed both first and second at state and sent both of our websites to nationals when there were lots of other schools that were competing in that same category,” Wheeler said. 

Jayna Grossaint, Kaitlyn Shamo and Rachel Shamo took second in the group performance category for their 10-minute play on “The White Rose” about a group of college students who wrote leaflets protesting the Nazi regime. Students wrote the script, built their own set and the Taylorsville High drama teacher let them use pieces for their costumes. 

Students present their projects at the competitions and answer questions from two or three judges who interview them. 

“It’s a huge accomplishment to get to nationals,” said Wheeler, who introduces the project at the beginning of the year and advises them throughout. “Because out of the thousands and thousands of students who begin the project all over the country, when you make it to nationals you’re in the top one percent of everybody who started the project.” 

Principal Mary Anne Stevens and some parents accompanied the girls to Washington, D.C. where they visited such iconic locations as the White House, Arlington National Cemetery, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Lincoln Memorial. They also saw important documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well as touring the Capitol. 

Azlynne said her group always thought it would be cool to see the nation’s capital “because we all really like history and really love our country.” 

One highlight was the group seeing a plaque during their tour of the Capitol in honor of the people on United flight 93, exactly who they did their project on. 

“That was really cool,” said Krystalina Myler, Azlynne’s mother. “We got to take a picture of the three girls with a mural of the project that they did, which was really awesome.” 

As for the competition, though the girls didn’t qualify for the second round, Stevens got to see one of the website presentations and said it was a very positive experience. 

“They were extremely well spoken, extremely professional. They were enthusiastic about their subject, I was really impressed with their whole presentation,” Stevens said. 

But simply getting everyone to Washington, D.C. for the competition was another matter. 

Last year, USANA paid for the girls to attend the competition. This year they donated almost $6,000, the same amount as last year, but it only covered half. Wheeler approached Stevens to see if there was anything the school could do. 

What did Stevens say when she learned what needed to be done? 

“I will do whatever I can to try to get them to have that opportunity,” Stevens said of her thoughts at the time. “They worked hard on their projects, their projects were exceptional.” 

The school was able to provide the necessary funds, gained from other school fundraisers, for the girls to head east. 

“It was a huge relief to these families that both USANA and the school were able to step forward and make it happen,” Wheeler said. 

With the number of girls qualifying for nationals tripling from year one to year two, the burgeoning program might need to find even more funds for next year. But educators said it’s completely dependent on the students. 

“I had an incredible group of students this year. Don’t know if I’ll have 15 go next year, it’s really up to the individual student and how passionate they are and how willing they are to put in the hard work to do it,” Wheeler said. 

There were several students from Kennedy who placed at the state competition, just not high enough to qualify for nationals. Stevens said she expects the project to continue regardless, they just might need to create a fundraiser for it going forward. 

“I don’t see it going away. I think Stasha (Wheeler) does an amazing job supporting them through all of their efforts,” Stevens said. “I think as long as we have kids who want to participate and will work hard and take advantage of the support they have, I think we’ll continue to at least compete.”