The Suffern High School History Team presents Monday in the first round competition for New York State History Day. The team has put together a website chronicling local school desegregation called The Little Red School House: A Story of Desegregation, which features information about the Main and Brook schools in Hillburn during the early 1930s.
The team consists of Suffern High students Paige Bergstol, Blair Croce, Geena DiGiacomo, Amanda Gerzog and Jillian Stella, and was named a Regional Finalist in the Group Website/Senior Division of the Lower Hudson Valley History Day Contest at St. Thomas Aquinas College on March 17.
“The theme of National History Day this year was reform,” said Amanda Gerzog. “In Hillburn, there was the Brook School, which was originally just for African-American children. Our website is on the petition and desegregation, and we found it interesting because Thurgood Marshall was on the case.”
Hillburn in the early 1940s had two schools, the Brook School, attended by Ramapo black children, and the Main School, the all-white school. The Main School site now serves as headquarters for the Ramapo School District. Thurgood Marshall took up a disparity case on behalf of Hillburn’s black residents and won, which led directly to the integration of the schools of Hillburn. Brook School had no gym, library or indoor plumbing while the Main School did. Marshall’s effort integrated the two schools 11 years before his landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, and served as a precedent for that landmark case.
The Suffern team’s site, The Little Red School House: A Story of Desegregation, features important archival information about the Main and Brook schools in Hillburn the team uncovered from Rockland County records. Some of the information the team uncovered has been digitized for the first time. The site has video interviews with Rockland County Historian Craig Long, Brook School alumna Evelyn DeFreece, Historical Society of Rockland Trustee Dr. Travis Jackson.
“I’m excited about going to the state finals…and appreciated all the time and help that Mr. Burger put in with us,” said Paige Bergstol.
“We are all looking forward to competing in states,” echoed Di Giacomo.
Other participants include Clarkstown South High School, with several participating teams. Clarkstown will present Reaching the Sumit: How the Little Rock Nine Inspired a Revolution and You Say You Want A Revolution as well as Four Dead, A Nation Changed.
The Suffern History Team researched census data at the Rockland Archives and received technical support from Suffern High School social studies teachers Richard Burger and Dr. Robert Wilson, information literacy coordinator Rob Lyons and librarian Dominick Martiniello. Sloatsburg Mayor Carl Wright, who graduated from Sloatsburg Elementary School in 1953 and is himself an unofficial historian of local life, provided key insight as a valuable primary source into that period of Hillburn history.
“We’re proud of the effort and time the students committed over the last three months to this project,” Burger said, who acts as team advisor. He credits the students’ hard work for their site’s success.
“I enjoyed interviewing the local historians and discovered interesting facts about Suffern’s history,” said Jillain Stella, from Sloatsburg.
“National History Day gave me many research skills and techniques for the future. It showed that hard work can really pay off,” said Gerzog.
After the state History Competition, the Suffern History Team will makes its website available online.
The Suffern High School History Team presents Monday at 11 a.m. in Cooperstown, NY at the 2012 New York State History Day during the Senior First Round Competition for Group Web Sites — Computer Lab.
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Source: Jennifer Citrolo, Ramapo Central Schools