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Jaspreet Khatkar and Anneka Swaney of Lynden Middle School answer questions from the judging panel at the regional National History Day competition in Anacortes. (Brent Lindquist/Ferndale Record)

Pair’s documentary takes third at History Day regionals

 ANACORTES — Lynden Middle School students took inspiration from their teachers and went big at the Northwest Region National History Day contest.

  The contest took place on Saturday, March 7, at Anacortes Middle School, and Anneka Swaney and Jaspreet Khatkar brought a group documentary to the contest titled “The Space Race: Katherine Johnson.” Their project took third place, earning them a spot in the state competition.

  This gathering takes place each year in Anacortes. History Day overall is a program that encourages students to use research, analysis and presentation skills to address a historical topic related to a central theme. The theme of this year’s National History Day is “Breaking Barriers in History.” Johnson, the Lynden girls’ subject, broke racial barriers as a NASA mathematician during the historic Space Race of the 1960s. She and her fellow female math pioneers were portrayed in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”

  “In math class, our teacher showed us ‘Hidden Figures’ because it was about famous mathematicians and he wanted to show us what we could become if we applied ourselves,” Swaney said. “Then this year our librarian showed us some options for a project, and Katherine Johnson was one of them. It clicked with us.”

  At the urging of LMS librarian Kathy Marr, the girls tackled their documentary.

  “It’s about how she broke gender and racial barriers,” Khatkar said. 

  Their documentary includes information about Johnson’s life and a variety of her own quotes that they found in their research. It is narrated by the girls. After they had finished their project, the real Katherine Johnson died this past Feb. 24 at the age of 101. The girls added a section to the end of the video after her death.

  “They already had it done, and then they came up with the ‘in memoriam’ and put it in the video,” their teacher Angela Allen said.

  The girls earned an A on their documentary, and they decided to take it to the next level. Contestants in History Day present their efforts in several categories: exhibits, performances, websites, papers and documentaries. Khatkar and Swaney entered their work in the group documentary category.

  The 2020 state contest will be held as a virtual online event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The winner at that level will get to move on to nationals. The girls have the opportunity now to update their project based on judges’ tips at the regional competition.

  Swaney and Khatkar weren’t the only LMS students to bring projects to History Day. Clayton Wiesen brought his individual exhibit titled “The Fighting Red Tails,” about a group of fighter pilots in World War II that broke its own racial barriers.