Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

I’ve covered the accomplishments of Westport’s National History Day  competitors before.

I’ve used the headline “Do Know Much About History” too, so I can’t do that again.

However, earlier this month 5 Bedford Middle School students and 1 from Staples proved Sam Cooke wrong. They do know a lot about history.

The 8th graders — already state champions — placed 5th in the national event in College Park, Maryland. Freshman Ishan Prasad — a Bedford National History Day alum — placed 2nd in the High School Individual Paper category, for his work: “Shah Bano and India’s Post-Colonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.”

Bedford Middle School National History Day competitors, with club advisor Caroline Davis (rear) and their project.

The Westport program is only 5 years old. But what a history it has!

When Caroline Davis moved here from New Jersey, she brought a dozen years’ experience as a middle school National History Day Club faculty adviser. She asked if she could start one here.

Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the idea. A year later, Bedford qualified for the national competition. They repeated in 2017, ’18 and ’19 — all 3 times as state champs. Last year, they finished 4th in the country.

Davis calls her students “incredibly motivated. They want to explore outside of Goggle and readily available sources.”

She’s not kidding. Last year — delving into the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court interracial marriage case — one group tracked down and interviewed the Lovings’ attorney.

Chris Fields, in the famous photo by Charles Porter IV.

Another group made a website about the Oklahoma City bombing. They found — and interviewed — Chris Fields, the firefighter in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from that 1995 day.

(I know — to many “06880” readers, that’s a “current event.” But it happened a couple of decades before the current BMS kids were born. So history it is.)

The club meets twice a week. Students bring their lunch to Davis’ classroom, eating and working together. She helps them stay on course. But finding sources, organizing information, laying it out, offering peer reviews — that’s all on the students.

The national competition in Washington, DC was a fantastic educational and fun experience. In addition to teams from all over the US, the BMS students (and Ishan) met others from South Korea, China and Guam.

They also met Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke with them about the importance of history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the US Capitol with some of Bedford’s National History Day team.

This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy.” The BMS team — Rhea Choudhury, Sharmila Green, Emma Losonczy, Malika Subramanian and Lucia Wang — researched and presented the career of Lise Meitner.

Never heard of her? Neither had I.

She’s a Jewish Austrian physicist who helped discover nuclear fission in the late 1930s. She never received credit, though — and was even excluded from receiving the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, the Bedford students (and Ishan) got their prize. Congrats to them, to Caroline Davis and Westport 6-12 social studies supervisor Lauren Francese.

Take that, Sam Cooke!

6 responses to “Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

  1. Were any awards given for non gender or race-related topics? On one hand it’s very impressive to see Middle School students tackle such serious academic work. On the other hand, it’s sad to see how the study of history has become so subservient to politics. No wonder that, once these kids get to college, so many of them will opt for a business or other career-oriented degree instead of one in the liberal arts.

    • Fred Cantor

      Peter, why should a research project on Lise Meitner be considered in any manner as something “so subservient to politics”? Aren’t giants in their field who did not receive their full due during their lifetime such as Lise Meitner and Rosalind Franklin worthy of historical research?

      As for Loving v. Virginia, as a retired attorney I can unequivocally say that was such an important Supreme Court case that deservedly qualifies as a wonderful subject for historical research by middle school and/or high school students.

      And the Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in the U.S. Why is doing a research project on that somehow “subservient to politics”?

      I loved studying history at Staples and think that what these kids have done is fantastic—certainly far beyond anything I engaged in back in the day. Congrats to all of these students.

      • Fred, individually there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these topics. Taken together, it’s clear that they all represent politicized topics, all from the POV of the political left.I think this has led to a decline in the liberal arts. It attracts the ideologues but the non-political are steering clear.

  2. N. S. Sivaraman

    Kudos to First Msllika because she is our child and the team; the teacher and the school and finally to you for giving Mili ALL the encouragement she needed.Thatha

  3. S. Roy Chowdhury

    1) Congrats to our amazing middle school team!
    2) Every year there is a theme for National History Day. This year’s theme was “Tragedy and Triumph”.
    3) The forgotten story of Lise Meitner was a great fit for this theme. The team worked very hard to recover Meitner’s story and present it to the public.
    4) Here’s a link to all the finalist exhibits, papers, performances and documentaries in this year’s NHD competition:

  4. Scott Brodie

    Lise Meitner’s story has one additional twist worth mentioning: she was memorialized (immortalized?) with a namesake chemical element, Meitnerium, atomic number 109, in 1997. She is thus the only non-mythological woman for whom an element is specifically and uniquely named (Curium is named for both Marie and Pierre Curie). Her collaborators, who took the credit and the Nobel prizes for her work in the 1930s are not forgotten, but have never been considered for this very rare and high honor.