School segregation, pirates and voodoo among topics tackled by about 200 Baton Rouge area students in history competition _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Homeschooled student Abigail Crowe, 11, of Baton Rouge, explains her interest in history, and her project about school desegregation, including Cohn High School, West Baton Rouge Parish's first predominantly black school, Saturday at the West Baton Rouge Community Center, where about 200 middle and high school students participated in a 12-parish regional 'National History Day' contest, with winners advancing to the state competition in April with a chance to compete for scholarships and cash prizes in Washington, D.C. in June, the month in which National History Day is marked.

Abigail Crowe loves history. The home-schooled 11-year-old from Baton Rouge enjoys learning interesting facts about Louisiana’s past and hopes to become a historian when she grows up.

So she jumped at the chance to participate in the regional National History Day contest held at the West Baton Rouge Museum. She and about 200 other middle and high school students from 12 parishes converged on the museum Saturday with exhibits and costumes, hoping for a chance to attend a national competition this summer.

Abigail said she wanted her project have a local theme, so she chose school segregation and focused on West Baton Rouge Parish, where battles over integrating schools resulted in the closure of the all-black Cohn High School in 1969. Other students delved into national and international topics, including malaria, women’s suffrage and the technological evolution of computer and telephones.

Students who placed first, second, third and fourth in their categories on Saturday will advance to a state competition next month at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. State winners from around the country will then go to Washington, D.C., in June to compete for cash prizes.

Contestants could do their projects on any topic as long as it is tied to this year’s National History Day theme, “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.” They had several options for presenting, including a traditional research paper and poster board as well as a website, a documentary or a performance.

For Abigail, the contest was an opportunity to learn more about the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education cases and ramifications that the cases had locally.

In West Baton Rouge Parish, the School Board repeatedly refused to integrate its schools in the 1960s but eventually did so after a flurry of legal activity in 1969, Abigail said. With an all-black school no longer needed, Cohn High was shut down in 1969, and its buildings were demolished in 2014.

“They wanted integration, but they lost what they loved,” Abigail said. “They loved Cohn.”

Sisters Catie Booksh, 11, and Ainsley Booksh, 12, entered the contest with a documentary about a topic close to their heart: the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its affiliate clinic in Baton Rouge, where their 4-year-old cousin Liam Thistlethwaite was recently treated for cancer.

The sisters, who live in Plaquemine and attend MSA West’s Starship program, discussed the hospital’s founding in 1962 and the progress its researchers have made in identifying better cancer treatments in their video. They also included interviews with Liam’s doctors at the local clinic, who talked about acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the most common cancers in children, and St. Jude’s role in improving survival rates.

“They’re changing the history for the future,” Ainsley said.

First-place winners include:

Cole Johnson: documentary, junior individual

Celeste Cavell: documentary, junior group

Hannah Kelley: documentary, junior group

John Thomas Hernandez: documentary, junior group

Kayleigh Snell: Documentary, senior individual

Gabrielle Hernandez: Documentary, senior group

Kati Cavalier: Documentary, senior group

Lauren Burgess: Documentary, senior group

Alania Walker: Exhibit, junior individual

Myah Davis: Exhibit, junior group

Kayleigh Rhymer: Exhibit, junior group

Caroline Blanchard: Exhibit, junior group

Maggie Lambert: Exhibit, senior individual

Jaques Monceret: Exhibit, senior group

Nick McCaulley: Exhibit, senior group

Mason Kirkland: Exhibit, senior group

Kennedy Jackson: Website, junior individual

Audrey Poche: Website, junior group

Lauren Bradley: Website, junior group

Macie Turner: Website, junior group

Hieu Nguyen: Website, senior individual

Dalyn Turner: Website, senior group

Zoie Spears: Website, senior group

Lauren Perkins: Performance, junior individual

Darrien Gage: Performance, junior group

Ira Anderson: Performance, junior group

Dwayne Riley: Performance, junior group

Jonathan Penn: Performance, junior group

Bryce Gulotta: Performance, senior individual

Mia Smith: Performance, senior group

Kirsten Swanson: Performance, senior group

Khai LeJune: Paper, junior individual

Caleb Jones: Paper, senior Individual