Bronxville High School Students Awarded NYS Honors by Honing Historical Research and Presentation Skills
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the subsequent debate about nuclear power. Repatriation of relics and the impact of imperialism. These complex topics are examples of those being studied by Bronxville students - and that recently led to distinguished recognition by New York State for a few.
The New York State Student Research Awards is an annual competition that recognizes excellence in student research using the wealth of historical records available in New York. Ms. Landesman, Bronxville High School’s Social Studies Curriculum Leader and teacher, learned about the program last year at the NYS Council for Social Studies around the same time that her students had completed projects for the National History Day (NHD) Competition. She recognized the curriculum alignment and the opportunity for students to receive recognition for their work, so she encouraged all her students to participate in the competition.
Leo Nevezhin, a junior, had worked on a group project for NHD and the group placed fourth at the National Competition. When he learned about the NYS Student Research Awards, he decided to continue his research independently and submit an exhibit focused on the same topic: Chernobyl Disaster: How Diplomatic Pressure Pushed the Soviet Union to Mitigate the Disaster and Created International Debate on Nuclear Energy. Leo’s exhibit received the High School Honorable Mention Award. “The process to choose a topic was initially difficult for me, but when I began researching the Chernobyl Disaster, I realized that it was the perfect focus. The Chernobyl Disaster’s 35th anniversary took place in 2021, leading to the declassification of many important and informative documents that were not yet deeply considered or researched. Furthermore, the project hit close to home, allowing me to learn more about my history and culture. I found it incredibly interesting to uncover materials that were relatively undiscovered and secret, and piece together information to create a strong, complete project,” said Leo.
Ria Mueller and Gwendolyn Kirst, also juniors, were also interested in continuing to develop their NHD project for the NYS Student Research competition. Their exhibit, Who Retains the Right? The Repatriation of Relics earned them a High School Certificate of Merit Award. “Initially, we never thought we would create a project on repatriation, but as we realized how important this topic is, the more we grew attached. Issues involving repatriation trace back centuries as consequences of imperialism and colonization, but this topic is so prevalent today and we were fascinated to see how much it has evolved,” shared Ria and Gwen.
“I am so proud of these students. Their work and dedication to learning history through multiple lenses and comprehensive research is astounding,” said Ms. Landesman. “This competition gave them the opportunity to truly let their abilities shine. These students are highly competent in research, historical thinking skills, and analysis.”
The competition required students to show perspectives through various lenses, developing a claim that is unique and supporting it with evidence, designing their research display format, and having an outside critique of their work from experts in the field. For Ria and Gwen, the the creative aspect required the most effort. “The creativity aspect of our project was the most challenging, but we ultimately overcame this difficulty by consulting previous and current art teachers to construct the highest quality project we could. For example, we went to middle school art teacher Ms. D’Arco to construct ceramic replicas of Benin Bronzes which ultimately helped us provide visuals alongside the written portion of our project,” said Ria and Gwen.
Selection criteria for awardees was measured by the extent to which the student used historical records, a bibliography that demonstrates and explains such use, the extent to which information from historical records was used, historical accuracy, and a demonstrated understanding of historical context. Additional components and skills that were used to identify excellence included: evidence of creativity and imagination in interpreting and integrating information from historical records with other information.
Reflecting on the experience, the student’s shared what they learned. “I learned a great deal about the importance of different perspectives, and, due to the nature of my project, the importance of international collaboration in solving global problems. In an increasingly divided and conflicted world, I find it very crucial to be able to understand and work with others. Regardless of differences, individuals and groups should be able and willing to understand each other, and work together to solve problems peacefully and efficiently,” said Leo. “We learned how to properly manage our time and organize our resources. We spent weeknights working on independent research and spent weekends putting together our physical project. Figuring out how to work efficiently alongside each other was the most important part of creating our submission,” said Ria and Gwen.
The students openly share this achievement with their teacher. “Ms. Landesman has always been very encouraging about our project and made sure to tell us extensively how proud and happy she is that our project succeeded,” said Ria and Gwen. “She was eager to provide valuable feedback on my thesis and how to prioritize sources to highlight in my project. She also provided guidance on how to conduct more scientific research,” added Leo.
When asked how it felt to receive this recognition of achievement for their hard work, they all agreed that it felt good. “If we’re being honest, it felt a little surreal. We originally submitted this project for the National History Day competition; however, we did not get very far. When Ms. Landesman informed us that we received this award, we were completely overjoyed that our hard work paid off,” said Rai and Gwen. Leo added, “It’s an incredible honor to receive this award, and I’m incredibly grateful for the support I received from my friends and family, as well as the unmatched guidance I received from Dr. Bierwirth and Ms. Landesman in crafting this project. It was an incredibly inspiring and exciting experience.”