More than 700,000 students entered the National History Day Competition last year, but only two took the top prize in the nation in the junior category, and they were Port Washington students Josh Bloom and Lindsay Weinstein. Starting last November with just a glimmer of an idea for the competition, these students -- then Weber eighth graders -- proceeded to delve into the research, travel to interview subjects, and create a video that they remade numerous times. Though this was the first time either of them had entered this contest, they won each level of local and state competitions with their documentary, "Harvey Milk: The Mayor of Castro Street." All their efforts and knowledge culminated in June when they took first place in the world's largest history contest.
Josh Bloom and Lindsay Weinstein soak up the triumphant moment of winning in their category at National History Day .
Josh Bloom, now a Schreiber ninth grader, recalled, "I was so happy," when they announced the first place winner at the Nationals, held at the University of Maryland. He and Lindsay, also a ninth grader, received medals and split a $1,000 prize. "The teachers, principal, students, staff, everyone congratulated us," said Josh, "and they made an announcement at Weber during school." Lindsay said he was fairly confident after they had made their presentation in front of the judges at the Nationals, which went well. The process involves more than the video; at most levels of competition, the pair showed the video, answered questions from the judges, and submitted an extensive research paper.
Their documentary, "Harvey Milk: The Mayor of Castro Street," vividly and hauntingly told of the uphill battle for elected office by Harvey Milk, an openly gay politician who became San Francisco's Supervisor. Secondarily, the video made clear that at a time when violence against gays was commonplace, Milk's activism prompted a wider acceptance of homosexuals. The documentary also covers the assassination of Harvey Milk (as well as Mayor Mosconi), its aftermath, and looks at Milk's legacy. Both students found the topic compelling. "His biggest accomplishment was being the first openly gay politician," said Josh, "and he voted against Proposition 6 (which would have meant the firing of all gay teachers)..it was eventually defeated." Added Lindsay, "he's the reason that people aren't being beaten for being gay."
Their project began to take shape when they envisioned Milk's election as an historic turning point, a theme of the competition. They grew more intrigued after social studies teacher Dave Hollis told them about the assassin's unique legal defense, dubbed the "Twinkie Defense" because of the claim that excessive sugar had caused the defendant's temporary insanity. The students spent many hours pursuing information and insights. After exhausting Internet resources, for example, Josh studied newspaper clippings at the NY Public Library, interviewed John Cooper, the first openly gay elected official in LI's history, and took a significant trip, with his father Ken Bloom, to San Francisco. Here he interviewed people close to Harvey Milk, including Ann Kronenberg, one of Milk's best friends and his campaign manager, and Tony Ammiano, the President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. " Harvey Milk reached out to all people, especially children," explained Josh, describing the warm cooperation he found, "and their (openness) is part of Milk's legacy." But sadness also crept into the project as it progressed, as they learned Harvey Milk held office for a scant 11 months before he was killed, and they discovered the high degree of intolerance.
This impressive duo felt their success was at least partially due to the help they received from many people. Port resident Alan Teitel, who created and patented a video system, was one; he taught Josh how to use the system, and then gave him complete freedom to do so. "I want to thank him a lot for all his help," said a genuinely grateful Josh. Lindsay also appreciated the help from Weber teachers like Mr. Brooks, Mrs. Moss, Mr. Hollis, and Mr. Barchi. A beaming Michele Bloom, mother of Josh, said she had some concerns when her son was up to one or two in the morning so often, but she was thrilled especially to see Josh, "so inspired." Both students clearly enjoyed creating their project and could be considered history buffs, with Josh commenting that law school might be in his future. But for now, these mature and savvy teenagers advise others entering the competition to find an unusual and researchable topic. And, as a final piece of guidance, Josh advised, "remember, you can't have too many sources." Spoken like a true scholar.
While two students won at the national level, four others placed first in NYS for a group performance. Ashley Gamell, Anushka Peres, Andrew Malone, and Amanda Otte took first prize at the State level for their group performance of "The Freedom Ride," a look at the 1961 civil rights movement in the south; they won sixth place in the national competition. Student Sam Eichner won honorable mention in the Individual Video Documentary category for "Oppenheimer's Atom." Honorable mention was also awarded to students Jessica Chung, Chiara Condi, Jacqueline Hehir, and Marla Diakow for their projects.