A group of classmates from Twin Groves Middle School in Buffalo Grove spent their entire eighth-grade year doing historical research -- over and above their regular homework -- and it was fun.
Rishika Chikoti and Aditi Singh, both of Hawthorn Woods, and Krishna Patel and Ojasvi Saxena, both of Buffalo Grove, learned earlier this summer that their project submitted to the National History Day contest advanced to nationals. They ultimately placed third among junior high entries.
"Keeping Chicago Dry: Eliot Ness and the Untouchables."
Ironically, they learned of their award-winning finish while watching the ceremony being live-streamed during their World History summer school class at Stevenson High School, where all four start as freshmen this week.
Their placement was the highest any student from Twin Groves has finished, says teacher Jill Leone, and rightly so, she says.
"Their project was amazing; I was so proud of all the work that they did," Leone said last week of their website filled with details about Ness and his fight against mobster Al Capone during Prohibition.
"I was available if they had questions or wanted me to check over their project," Leone added, "but they did all the research themselves and chose the quotes, visuals and wrote the captions."
The young teens were in Leone's social studies class last fall at Twin Groves when they took the plunge and joined her History Club.
"During club meetings, we work on research skills and analysis writing," Leone says. "We also spend a significant amount of time in class working on analyzing historical documents."
The students also choose a research topic to enter into the World History Day contest. According to the rules, they needed to select a topic that had a connection to Illinois and they had to stay within the theme: "Taking a Stand in History."
"We decided to focus on Eliot Ness because of his character and integrity," Aditi said, "and that he had the courage to fight others and take a stand, even when everyone was against him."
Her classmate, Rishika, added that they divided up the work. The more they did, she says, the more they learned about the depth of the corruption.
"We couldn't believe how corrupt society was at the time -- and how it was considered to be an everyday norm," Rishika said.
In compiling their research, they gained enough confidence to contact the Library of Congress Archives and the Smithsonian Institution, and they even tried to call the FBI. Ultimately, their list of primary and secondary sources extended through 15 pages documented on their website.
"While we were doing it, it didn't feel like work," says Ojasvi. "We'd talk about it at the (Vernon Area Public) Library and at the lunch table. It was the process that we loved."
National History Day is a foundation based in College Park, Maryland, and its contest is its largest initiative, drawing more than 500,000 junior high and high school students to conduct research on original topics of interest each year.
"When we joined the club, we knew a group (from Twin Groves) had made it to nationals last year, and we had hoped to get there," Krishna says, "but it was really shocking when we made it to the finals."
The group didn't have to go to regionals or to the state competition since they could just submit their website.
"But we had to go to the first day of finals, where we were interviewed by national judges," Krishna says. "We were just so grateful for the ability to go. I think it will really prepare us for high school."
Check out all their research and artifacts at http://keepingchicagodry.weebly.com.