2020: Hawaiʻi History Day Students Take Top Awards at National History Day Virtual Competition

June 26, 2020–As the National History Day (NHD) competition came to an end, Hawaiʻi’s 52 competitors took home top awards in the nation, including one gold medal, one silver medal, and one bronze medal. This year Hawaiʻi’s delegation consisted of 52 State finalists, from O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island, who competed against just under 3,000 students from across the country and around the world. 

“To make it to the National Contest in a normal year is a remarkable achievement,” said NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “Given the unprecedented challenges that faced students over the last several months, I am even more impressed by what they achieved this year.”

The local NHD affiliate, Hawaiʻi History Day (HHD), is a year-long project-based educational program, where students grades fourth through twelve dive deeply into a historical topic of their choice, creating a research paper, documentary, performance, exhibit display board, or website, and developing critical thinking skills valuable for college and careers. This year they undertook extensive research on the theme: “Breaking Barriers in History,” looking at moments when the path of our society was forever changed. More than half a million middle and high school students, from the US and around the world, compete in the National History Day program at their local level. 

This year, 16-year-old ʻIolani high school student Summer Royal captured the National History Day gold medal for her senior-division documentary: The Tereshkova Effect: The Role of Propaganda in Breaking Barriers.

Her project demonstrates the positive impact of Soviet propaganda encouraging women to pursue careers in science and technology, post-WWII. “History is important because it is our roots. We grow from our past, and whether we like it or not, we are connected to the previous generations and the ones before that. These roots shape and nurture our leaves, our future.” says Summer Royal. She won the National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, The Next Generation Angel Award, the Anne Harrington Award, and was one of five in the nation who won a 5-week residency at the National History Academy in Virginia, a $10,000 scholarship. 

Hawaiʻi also placed silver in senior-division website for a project from Maui High School students, John Andrei Balanay (15, freshman), Sarah Sakakihara (18, senior), and Jaelen Matsuda-Williams (15, freshman), on The Military Intelligence Service: Japanese Americans Breaking Barriers to Help End the War, which focuses on Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) breaking through racial, cultural, and identity barriers during WWII. John, Sarah, and Jaelen write, “As Nisei, they were not only able to understand both languages, but also the cultures. During the rebuilding of Japan, the MIS members became the cultural bridge between the two countries. Their legacy has left a lasting peace between the two countries as they continue to be essential allies to each other.”

Hawaiʻi received the bronze for a junior-division performance from Lāʻie Elementary on Breaking Barriers: How Swimwear Paved the Way for Women’s Rights by sixth graders, Auden Ho, Annika Houghton, and Eden Smith. Twelve-year-old Annika Houghton recalls, “I really enjoyed this project because I learned so much about how women had to work for the chance to swim.  I also learned that my great-grandma, Lucile Petty, taught swimming and life-saving at Weber College in Utah in the early 1930s. I admire her for being active in helping women feel confident in the water.”  

Beyond the contest, studying history helps students better understand the larger world they are a part of as citizens of the nation and members of their community. “Hawaiʻi History Day is vital in teaching and learning US and world history, and histories that have been silenced and marginalized, but are relevant to our youth in Hawai‘i. Students are empowered to care for their history and to think critically about its relevance in their own lives and their communities,” says Shannon Cristobal, Director of Hawai‘i History Day. At the State Hawai‘i History Day contest, local community organizations sponsor various awards on topics that range from labor history to Okinawan history to outstanding presentation in the Hawaiian language. Outstanding local History Day teachers are also recognized each year. Please go here for a complete list of of these community and teacher awards

The teacher awards try to recognize that teachers are often the unsung heroes of our society. “Most of these K-12 teachers do this [HHD] as something extra, and the judges, who are often college teachers, are all volunteers. History Day is really about extraordinary teachers. Great teachers are great learners. When you do History Day, you learn from all of your students,” says Mitch Yamasaki, History Day cofounder in Hawai‘i, Chaminade professor of history, and judge for many years.

Kaua‘i students Hope Newton (14 years old) and Mar Heinrich Ruiz (15 years old) of Waimea High School found powerful contemporary relevance in their project about Katherine Johnson, one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist. According to Hope and Mar: “Her moment in history perfectly reflects what’s happening in our current time. We are in the middle of fighting for civil rights and as Americans, we are advancing in space travel. Katherine Johnson is an inspiration to all who strive to reach their dreams in this world and to those who have been struck down because of their gender, skin color, who they are, and who they love.” 

Their teacher, Keyk Capati, was similarly inspired by the work of her students and by the story they tell. She says, “Hope and Mar’s project is significant, because Katherine Johnson is a wonderful example of perseverance, hard work, and determination.  The barriers Katherine Johnson faced are, unfortunately, still prevalent today, as evident in the Black Lives Matter protests and the struggles brought up by women around the globe. Yet, Johnson was able to overcome many of those barriers.” Other Hawai‘i History Day student projects that explore stories about breaking racial barriers in the US can be found here.


Complete List of National History Day Hawaiʻi Medalists and Honorees at National History Day

First Place Senior Individual Documentary:
The Tereshkova Effect: The Role of Propaganda in Breaking Barriers
Student: Summer Royal
Teacher: Jeffrey Hackler
School: ʻIolani School
Link to Project

Second Place Senior Group Website:
The Military Intelligence Service: Japanese Americans Breaking Barriers to Help End the War
Students: John Andrei Balanay, Sarah Sakakihara, Jaelen Matsuda-Williams
Teacher: Janyce Omura
School: Maui High School
Link to Project

Third Place Junior Group Performance:
Breaking Barriers: How Swimwear Paved the Way for Women’s Rights
Students: Auden Ho, Annika Houghton, Eden Smith
Teachers: David Ishii, Colleen Spring
School: Lāʻie Elementary School
Link to Project

National Finalist

Rank Eight, Senior Individual Website:
Breaking Barriers to Higher Heights
Student: Noah Ocreto
Teacher: Grant Bramer
School: Mililani High School
Link to Project

NHD Affiliate Outstanding Hawaiʻi Senior Winner

Rank Six, Senior Group Exhibit:
Katherine Johnson: NASA’s Assiduous Pioneer
Students: Hope Newton, Mar Heinrich Ruiz
Teacher: Keyk Capati
School: Waimea High School
Link to Project

NHD Affiliate Outstanding Hawaiʻi Junior Winner

Rank Nine, Junior Individual Website:
The Germ Theory of Disease and Its Most Prominent Scientists: Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch
Student: Keara Leonardo
Teacher: Anthony Casciano
School: Waipahū Intermediate School
Link to Project

National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Documentary Showcase
This project was chosen as one of 35 to be showcased at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Senior Documentary:
Hoʻi ka ʻŌlelo: The Revitalization of Hawaiian Language in the Education System
Student: Liʻua Tengan
Teacher: Sarah Razee
School: Kamehameha Schools – Kapālama Campus
Link to Project 

National History Day Honorable Mention Awards
These awards are presented to entries that ranked in the second place in the first-round of judging. While these entries were not eligible for the final-round of competition, their outstanding scholarship is recognized.

Junior Group Exhibit:
Italians Break American Borders
Students: Angelina Perez, Alexis Warnet
Teacher: Jennifer Orta
School: ʻIlima Intermediate School
Link to Project

Senior Individual Exhibit:
Reviving the Hula: Kalākaua Breaks Cultural Barriers
Student: Gabriella Stonerook
Teacher: Genevieve Matsumura
School: Mililani High School
Link to Project 

National Teacher Awards
Teachers David Ishii (Lāʻie Elementary), Colleen Spring (Lāʻie Elementary), Janyce Omura (Maui High School) were selected for the Naval Historical Foundation Teacher of Distinction awards. 

Scott Clarke, a teacher from Baldwin High School, was a finalist for the Hannah E. (Liz) MacGregor Teacher of the Year Award.