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Nashua-Plainfield student takes first place in category at National History Day contest

Nashua-Plainfield student takes first place in category at National History Day contest
Nashua-Plainfield student Caleb Sinnwell shows the website that won him a first place in the National History Day contest. Submitted photo
By Bob Fenske, Nashua Reporter /  Bob Steenson, Charles City Press

One of these years Caleb Sinnwell is going to experience National History Day in the Washington, D.C., area, instead of the comfort of his own home.

Sinnwell, of Nashua-Plainfield Middle School, took first place in his category last week at the 2021 National History Day National Contest, which was held virtually again this year.

Sinnwell took top honors nationally for “Ghost Army: Deceptive Communication and the Power of Illusion” in the junior individual website category.

His research and winning project focused on a U.S. Army unit that created deceptions, including fake radio transmissions and inflatable tanks, to confuse enemy forces during World War II.

“Seriously, I can’t wait to actually get to go,” said Sinnwell, a soon-to-be Nashua-Plainfield High School freshman, regarding attending a national competition in person. “It would be so much more fun to actually be out there than here, but I guess no one really asked me, right?”

In addition to Sinnwell’s national win, the N-P team of Cal Levi, Kadence Huck, Paige Ranzen and Cam Cleveland placed 10th in the nation in the junior group documentary category for the entry, “From Rural RN to Healthcare Hero: Barbara Fassbinder’s Passionate Plea for PPE.”

The team’s entry was also selected to participate in the student documentary showcase co-presented by National History Day and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“It’s a huge honor for these kids because there are literally hundreds of documentaries that are part of National History Day,” said Suzy Turner, the N-P History Day advisor.

“In a typical year, they’d be at the Smithsonian and that’s the only downside is they’re missing that experience,” Turner said. “But it’s a huge honor and I think shows the caliber of work these kids put into their project.”

The 10-minute documentary tells the story of Barbara Fassbinder, an Iowa nurse who became one of the first health care workers in the nation to contract AIDS while giving care to a patient, and later became an advocate for medical professionals to receive proper personal protection equipment while caring for patients.

Fassbinder died in 1994 at the age of 40. Her husband, Dave, helped the four Nashua-Plainfield Junior High students with their research by allowing them to borrow 17 videotapes that featured his wife’s advocacy.

In turn, the students turned the tapes into digital files for Dave Fassbinder as a way of thanking him for his help.

Sinnwell’s project on the Ghost Army led him to email and talk with U.S. senators around the country in an effort to have Congress honor an 1,100-man unit that impersonated other Allied armies in attempts that often proved successful to deceive German forces.

Nashua-Plainfield had 13 students with seven projects compete at the virtual national competition this year.

Nashua-Plainfield was also represented by Elexa O’Neil, Connor Sullivan, Chris Niedert, Lucas Pierce, Myranda Webster, Maci Malven, Alyson Reints and Jordyn Frost at the virtual contest.

A total of 15 Iowa students including the N-P students were named as finalists in the national contest held last week.

Students compete in a junior division (grades 6-8), senior division (grades 9-12), and a non-competitive youth division (grades 4-5). More than half a million middle and high school students around the world participate in the program each year. Of those, 63 students from 21 schools advanced to the national finals where they competed for top honors against nearly 3,000 other students from around the world.

National History Day is a year-long academic enrichment program that challenges students to research, develop and present papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites and performances about historical topics related to an annual theme. This year’s theme was “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding.”

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