Unity point students go the extra 835 miles

By Marissa Novel

At the height of WWI, German opposition ran as high as the American flag waved. A century later, four 8th grade girls researched how dangerous patriotism cost a man his life, but eventually saved the lives of many.

Four Unity Point Elementary School students represented Illinois with their original website that placed fifth at the National History Day contest last month.

Leah Hall, Irena Gao, Faith Golz and Marissa Ivory traveled to the University of Maryland at College Park to compete against 57 other teams with their site titled “The Prager Case: A Patriotic Murder?”.


National History Day is a yearlong academic program more than a half million students participate in creating original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries on a particular theme. This year’s theme was “Rights and Responsibilities.”

“They actually had discussed they wanted to do something civil rights based,” C.J. Buss, the girls’ history teacher, said. “But not necessarily the civil rights movement taking place in the ‘50s and 60’s like we normally think of it.”

The girls’ website outlines the lynching of Robert P. Prager, a German immigrant coal miner from Collinsville, the court case that led to the pardon of his murderers and legislation to prevent further injustices.

Buss said because Prager was an immigrant and had socialist beliefs, he became a target for mob violence during the height of the red scare.

“He kind of had his civil rights taken away,” Buss said. “He was murdered and the people that killed him were more or less celebrated to an extent.”

The girls retrieved sources from the Illinois Historical Journal and newspapers from the Collinsville, St. Louis and New York City areas. They interviewed professor Jonathon Bean from SIU and historians Charlotte Knapp and Robert Stephens from the Collinsville Historical Museum. At the museum they also retrieved original photos and news clippings for the website.

“We got to see a lot of stuff in person so that was really cool,” Hall, 14, of Carbondale, said. “It was also just a good experience to hangout and learn about our project together.”


Gao, 14, of Makanda, said they did research from August to May.

Gao had some experience with online coding, but she said the hardest part of the project was building the site. She said they created original graphics using Photoshop.

“Despite all the stress, building the site was my favorite part of the project,” she said. “There’s something magical about taking so many loose, unique perspectives of a historical event and carefully conducting them into a visual, interactive symphony.”

At nationals, the girls went sightseeing, lived in dorms, and presented their website alongside teams of students from each state, some U.S. territories, and other countries.

“It’s really fun because you don’t just go compete you go and see the city,” Golz, 14, of Carbondale, said. “And meeting people from Guam and Southeast Asia and China was really cool”

She said she met a lot of people from Chicago representing Illinois at nationals and would love to see more people from the southern Illinois and Springfield areas apply.

The girls’ website can be viewed at www.94167088.nhd.weebly.com.

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.