COLUMBIA CITY — A group of Columbia City High School history buffs is headed to a national contest in Washington D.C. next month.
Liam Hesting, Maddie Schroeder, Jackson Longenbaugh and Grace Mills placed second in the state National History Day contest earlier this month, sending them to nationals June 11-15 — the first group in school history.
The students in Kristin Rentschler’s Advanced Placement World History Class created a website about Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her creation of the Special Olympics, taking a stand for disabled people.
The project was a requirement for Rentschler’s students, who began work shortly after the start of the 2016-17 school year.
The group of four best friends got to work, first writing their own research papers, then working together to create the website. In the winter, the school hosted several community members to judge the projects before they competed in regionals. From there, the team of sophomores advanced to the state contest, where it placed second to another team — a group of seniors in their third year of competing.
With the help of Rentschler and local judges at the school’s contest, the team fine-tuned the website into a national-contest-worthy project.
“When we hosted judges at our school, some of them were critical —they didn’t seem to like our website,” Schroeder said. “But it was helpful that they were critical, we were able to make changes and improvements.”
“We changed the look of it and a lot of information,” Hesting said.
Hesting was the mastermind of the technology.
“We didn’t know how to work the website — Liam took care of that,” Schroeder said. “One day, we got together to work on the site and he was gone at practice. We all just sat there and looked at each other.”
Each member of the team has their own contribution into the project — each unique.
“We had to write our research papers individually before we came together for the website,” Mills said.
“Doing our own research, we all had different sources,” Longenbaugh said.
“We all have our own style, our own voices — the way we talk and present ourselves,” Schroeder said. “With it all put together, it turned out really nice.”
When they were in the early stages of the project, they didn’t expect to go far.
“We didn’t think we’d go anywhere, but then we started realizing — this is good,” Schroeder said.
There was a lot of work between the initial school judging and now. Even after placing second at state, the group continued to fine-tune the website with the help of suggestions from Rentschler.
“She is as passionate about it as we are,” Schroeder said. “
Rentschler’s son, Ian, made it to the national contest last year. He attends Canterbury School in Fort Wayne.
Not all of the group members knew who Shriver was prior to the research project but, after they started researching, they were intrigued.
“Before we did the project, I watched a TV documentary on her,” Hesting said. “Then we found out a lot more about her.”
The group members said they enjoyed diving deeper into research.
“We really got some insight on primary and secondary sources. When researching, we found a lot of newspaper clippings from the time,” Hesting said.
They found connections to their own lives as well.
Schroeder’s mother worked at Indian Springs Middle School’s resource department with special needs students for six years. Hesting has an uncle, Dennis Housholder, who competes in the state Special Olympics.
“We didn’t know how poorly the disabled community was treated at that time (1960s),” Schroeder said.
The group will stay in the dorms at Maryland University, helping cut costs to $2,300 for the trip.
They’ve been reaching out to local businesses to assist with the expenses. Those wishing to help can contact Mills at 229-6331 or firstname.lastname@example.org by June 5.