Poland students show off their history research

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Whittier Middle School eighth-grader Lucas Frechette, 14, explains how during World War II the German U-boats came so close to Maine’s shore that they could be heard on Old Orchard Beach. To his right are judges Mary Morin and Stacey Bsullak. Wednesday was National History Day at the Poland school, when all students showed off their history research. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)

POLAND — Whittier Middle School eighth-grader Lucas Frechette, 14, stood in front of his German U-boat display Wednesday, fascinating judges Mary Morin and Stacey Bsullak with history.

During World War II, the submarines were “super close” to Maine’s shore.

“They came so close off the coast of Old Orchard Beach, they could hear the bands playing,” Frechette said.

The United States government did not tell citizens that the U-boats, which destroyed so much in the Atlantic, were close, Frechette said.

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Throughout the school Wednesday students shared their history research projects with community members who served as judges during the annual National History Day.

Whittier Middle School is one of few schools in Maine where all students participate in the history project, said Principal Shawn Vincent. Students must choose a project to research and prepare reports, performances, documentaries and presentations.

Their work is judged by about 70 community members — parents, grandparents, bus drivers, teachers — who serve as judges.

“We train the judges,” Vincent said. “The judges interview the students.”

The best projects represent the school at the Maine State History Day in Orono in April.

“During the last few years we’ve sent six of seven kids to the National History Day in Washington, D.C.,” said organizer social studies teacher Logan Landry.

Frechette said initially he didn’t know what to do his project on. A teacher suggested U-boats.

“I didn’t know what a U-boat was,” he said.

Mary Morin and Stacey Bsullak said they learned much from judging.

The history project “is great,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of history.”

Seventh-grader Johanna Sennett’s project was “Malaga Island, the Hidden Story,” about how in 1911 black people living on a Maine island near Phippsburg were forced to leave, kicked out of their homes. Some were sent to a school for the feeble-minded.

“It’s sad they were kicked out of their homes and had to fend for themselves,” she said. “The story stayed hidden for years.”

McKenna Murphy, 12, researched heiress Sarah Winchester, whose father-in-law founded the Winchester gun company. After losing her infant child, and in 1881 her husband, Winchester became one of the richest women in the world, but she was troubled, Murphy said.

“She felt responsible for the deaths of people who got shot by the Winchester guns.” Convinced that a way to honor their deaths was to build a sprawling house,  Winchester spent years adding onto the California mansion. The story inspired the movie starring Helen Mirren, “Winchester.”

Not far from Murphy, student Trinity Theberge was questioned by judges Bobbi Kimball of Poland and Darrell Young of Mechanic Falls.

Theberge did her project on the Vietnam War protesters. She learned how the country was torn apart by the war, that pro-war citizens “thought the protesters were animals,” she said. Many citizens were against the war “but didn’t do anything,” she said. “Protesters had more reasons to stop the war,” she said.

Judge Bobbi Kimball said Theberge’s work showed her a different side. “My dad fought in Vietnam,” Kimball said. “Some of that stuff you didn’t hear about. That is what’s fun about this day, you learn things you didn’t know.”

Darrell Young said his father was drafted but didn’t go to Vietnam. “It was close,” he said. He was impressed that Theberge had an interest in a different historical  subject, but chose to learn about Vietnam protesters because it was something she didn’t know about.

Seventh grader A.J. Milliken researched Martin Luther King Jr. He said he knew MLK went to jail for marching, “but I didn’t know it was 11 times.”

“Back then, they (black Americans) couldn’t vote without taking a test,” he said. “It sucks to know they got treated less than dirt.”

Bill Foss, an ed tech at the school, said what he likes about the history project is how it teaches students to learn.

It isn’t so much what students are digging into, he said. “It’s the skills that come with it — to be able to do research.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Whittier Middle School student Trinity Theberge, right, talks about the Vietnam War protesters to judge Bobbi Kimball. Wednesday was National History Day at the Poland school, when all students presented history projects they researched. Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal

Seventh-grader Johanna Sennett, 12, did a history project on how black Mainers were kicked off Malaga Island. Wednesday was National History Day at the Whittier Middle School in Poland, when all students presented their history projects. Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal

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