In 1958, a fire killed 92 children and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago. A documentary about this disaster by Megan Siebert was the first step in the Barrington teen becoming the state winner in a national essay contest.
The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Science & Arts Academy in Des Plaines is the Illinois winner of The National World War II Museum's "Salute to Freedom" essay contest. She will represent Illinois when she travels to New Orleans in January to participate in the grand opening of the museum's U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.
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"I am really excited about this," said Megan. She has never been to New Orleans and being present at the opening of the new museum "sounds really neat," said the 13-year-old Barrington resident.
The contest is through a partnership with the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest. Megan first submitted a documentary about the 1958 Our Lady of the Angels school fire and the reforms put in place as a result. After qualifying for that contest, she submitted an application and two essays for the "Salute to Freedom" contest.
The first essay asked how National History Day impacted her view on how the past influences the present, so Megan wrote about how past lessons can help in present situations. The second essay asked how the state helped during World War II, so Megan focused on Illinois' geography, which provided food and transportation. She also spoke of the work of Enrico Fermi on development of the atomic bomb at the University of Chicago.
It was this level of specificity, said Lisa Oppenheim, co-coordinator of the National History Day in Illinois, that made her work outstanding. Not only did the way Megan addressed her own reflection on history make an impression, said Oppenheim, but she also made the most significant points about how Illinois engaged in World War II.
Researching the information for those two essays, however, was not that easy in the beginning, said Megan. She researched solely on her own and finally found some websites that had useful information for her to use.
As part of winning the essay contest, Megan will have to collect five images that represent Illinois' contributions to World War II, caption them and write a short essay.
"She'll be looking at transportation," Nathan Huegen, History Day coordinator at The National World War II Museum, said, since part of her essay focused on how supplies and soldiers traveled by railroads in Illinois.
Her work along with that of the 50 other winners will become part of a special exhibit at the January grand opening.
Megan's mother, Cindy Siebert, said Megan appreciates WW II because of her grandfather, who recently went on an Honor Flight, where WW II veterans fly to Washington to see the World War II Memorial.