WVMS eighth grader Conrad Wendell advances to National History Day state competition


WVMS eighth grader Conrad Wendell advances to National History Day state competition

April 20, 2020

Warwick Valley Middle School eighth grader Conrad Wendell started working on his National History Day project in December. He was understandably disappointed when the mid-Hudson regional competition scheduled for March 7 at St. Thomas Aquinas College was canceled due to COVID-19.

Fortunately, National History Day then decided to move the contest online instead of in-person. Conrad and his video on the Apollo 11 mission placed second in the Junior (6-8 grade) individual documentary division and advanced to the New York State competition.

Conrad’s video started as an assignment for Mr. Rauschenbach’s eighth grade social studies class. All students had to pick a project based on the 2020 National History Day theme of “Breaking Barriers.” The students also had the option of entering their project in the competition, and Conrad took that option.

“We had checkpoints along the way,” Rauschenbach said. “The students had to do the research first. Conrad is a very astute individual in everything he does, so I wasn’t surprised by how well it was progressing. He was one of the few people who traveled to do research. He went and interviewed people, which is one of the things that makes it more unique. He really jumped into this full bore.”

Students had the option of completing their projects as a documentary video, a paper, a physical exhibit, a website, or a performance. Conrad chose the documentary because he had experience using Adobe Premiere Pro to create a video earlier in the fall.

Conrad decided to feature the Apollo 11 mission because of a family connection.”By coincidence, my grandparents told me they had people living in their apartment complex that had worked on the Apollo mission on pretty much the same day that the teacher gave us the project,” Conrad said. “I thought, okay, I could make a pretty cool documentary.”

The first step was research, which included a trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Conrad explained why he made a trip to the museum in the documentary’s narration.

“To see models of the original rockets and to glimpse some of the features of the Apollo 11 mission gave me a view of how the rocket was made and how it was set to travel to and from the moon,” Conrad explained. “I was then able to understand how the mission went through by looking at diagrams and records.”

The documentary describes America’s post World War II prosperity, the rise of the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the launch of Sputnik and the beginning of NASA and the space race. After completing the script, Conrad found historical still photographs, television news coverage, newspaper front pages and political cartoons to illustrate the documentary.

The most surprising insight Conrad learned through his research was how simple the technology was in the 1960s. The entirety of NASA in 1969 had only the computing power of a basic smartphone of today.

Conrad included a video of himself at the Air and Space Museum that was shot by his father. And Conrad also recorded interviews with the friends of his grandparents who had worked on the Apollo 11 mission.

Part of the interview with Al Williams is included in the video. Mr. Williams was the lead engineer on the Apollo TV scan converter project and developed the technology that allowed Neil Armstrong to broadcast his landing to the world.

Conrad also interviewed Hans Jenny, a NASA satellite engineer. Unfortunately, Mr. Jenny recently passed away. The current version of the documentary starts with a dedication to Mr. Jenny.

After the regional competition, Conrad received an evaluation sheet. He was able to make changes and re-record the documentary based on the judges’ recommendations before entering the virtual state competition. He will get another chance to make improvements if the project places first or second in the state and advances to the national competition.

Conrad Wendell portrait

Warwick Valley Middle School student Conrad Wendell.


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