Students dive into history for contest

Debra Erdley
| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 12:02 a.m.

Don't tell Tony Capone the past is dead.

The storied past of the Tuskegee Airmen came alive for the 14-year-old student from New Kensington as he spent months delving into the history of the World War II black pilots who broke the color barrier for his National History Day contest entry on Saturday in the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Capone was among scores of enthusiastic teens from more than two dozen schools who converged on the history center with contest entries that included websites, documentaries, performances and displays devoted to history. Their work covered topics as varied as family planning in China, the French and Indian War, gun control, and the Japanese-American Internment in the United States during World War II.

First-, second- and third-place winners in the regional competition designed to promote historical inquiry, knowledge and understanding will compete in a state-level contest in May. First- and second-place winners at that level will go to the national contest in June.

Evelyn Quade, a teacher at Queen of Apostles School in New Kensington, encouraged Capone, a lanky teen with an insatiable curiosity and talent for art, to take on a project for the contest last year.

He read extensively and attended a memorial to the Airmen. Using insulation foam cut to size and shaped with butter knives, he crafted a bright red replica of a P-51 Mustang, like the one the Airmen flew, on which to display his research.

“And I actually got to meet James A. Cotton, one of the surviving Airmen at a memorial,” the teen said, smiling.

Caitlyn Chirdon, 13, of Plum, a student at St. John the Baptist School, said she got a real awakening to issues involving women's rights when she began digging into the history of contraception.

“We found there were two dates when it became available — one for married women and one for single women,” she said.

Aspiring documentary film maker Sarah Friedman chose a young woman closer to her own time for her project looking at the history of women's rights in Pakistan.

She wanted a dramatic jumping-off point, so she chose Malala Yousafzai, the young Pashtun girl from Pakistan's Swat Valley who became an international heroine when she survived a shooting when she stood up to the Taliban for her right to attend school.

“I did a lot of reading and research and then got a clip of Malala's speech to the U.N. and searched for Google images,” she said.

In the end, she made a documentary spanning six minutes and 54 seconds and developed a new respect for those who will be vying for the Oscar for documentary filmmaking on Sunday.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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