Students from Strong Elementary School stand with their National History Day project that won first place last month in the state competition. The students will next enter their project, titled “Little Rock Nine,” in the National History Day competition in June in Washington. From left: Isabella Norster, Veda Clement, Savannah Davis, Emily Pillsbury and Natasha Nichols.

STRONG — Five eighth-graders at Strong Elementary School won the state National History Day competition and will represent Maine next month at the national competition June 9-13 in Washington.

Emily Pillsbury, Natasha Nichols, Isabella Norster, Savannah Davis and Veda Clement chose a project on the Little Rock Nine, a group of black students who tried to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. It fit the National History Day theme of “Triumph and Tragedy in History,” they said.

They decided to study the history-making stand against school segregation, with assistance from teachers Crystal Polk, Wendy Morrill and Candace Dunham.

“We decided this was a very big topic and that should be taught more about,” Norster said. “It was shameful, and we really wanted to shed light on the topic as a whole.”

The nine Arkansas students had to walk through a mob screaming ugly slurs and threatening them. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the school be desegregated in 1954, the governor sent in the National Guard to stop the students. They went home but returned three weeks later, protected by federal troops as they entered the school.

The project presenters said they were astonished at the level of violence adults directed against the students 62 years ago.

“People threw burning balls of paper at them,” Nichols said.

Their four months of hard work paid off, first at the regional competition in March and then at the state finals in Orono in April. Judges evaluated all projects, with points awarded for historical quality, relation to the theme and the students’ presentations.

The students are raising money for travel expenses to the national competition, and recently received $1,000 from the Farmington Rotary Club. Supporters can donate at the Strong Elementary School or through a GoFundMe account.

Other students from Strong also competed in the regional competition, with Damien Thurlow and Tucker Plouffe recognized for their D-Day Invasion website and Kalley Starbird, Nadia Davis, Riley Monohan given high marks for their Boston Tea Party website.


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