Three Newton middle school students recently took honors at the National History Day Competition in Washington D.C. Abby Koontz, Lucy Buller, and Caleb Koontz won the "Outstanding Affiliate Award" for the project — a website dedicated to the history conscientious objectors duirng World War I.
The project featured the stories of John Schrag, Bernard Harder, and the Diener and Cooprider families, among others. The website contains audio of people who participated in mob beatings, photos of men who were tarred and feathered and more.
July 10 the City Commission honored the team for competing at National History Day in Washington, D.C. The team of Abby Koontz, Lucy Buller, and Caleb Koontz took seventh place with their website project. They also won the outstanding affiliate award, meaning they had the top entry from the state of Kansas.
Buller said that at district, state and national competition the team performed an in-person interview with a panel of judges.
"They looked over our website and asked us questions about it. They asked how we did our project," Buller said.
The three used the following thesis as they researched: "World War I Conscientious Objectors (COs) from central Kansas, while striving for peace, suffered mob violence, discrimination, and fear in their local communities and at military camps. Most COs in central Kansas were Mennonites and were pacifists based on religious principles. World War I was particularly difficult for these Mennonites because of the institution of the draft and because many were of German heritage. This violence could be seen against individuals and churches that used the German language, those who refused to buy war bonds, and non-combatants who reported to military camps. COs were accused of not being “true Americans” which created local conflict and a strong divide in these communities. The widespread violence seen against COs during 1917-1918 led to the formation of Civilian Public Service Camps during World War II and to better developed peace guidelines within the Historic Peace Churches."
"There was an overall topic to choose from, it was conflict and compromise," said Abby Koontz. "It was a very broad range you could choose from. We chose to learn about Conscientious Objection."
They completed an extensive research project called"Conflict within the Conflict: Mennonite Conscientious Objectors in Central Kansas during World War I" and located online at http://mennoniteco.weebly.com/. Most of their research was done at the Harvey County Historical Society in Newton, Kauffman Museuem in North Newton and the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College.
Their project won second place at the State History Day competition, qualifying them for a national event in June. In May, the three shared stories and their research during a special event at Bethel College Mennonite Church.
The final project included a full website with a 500-word process paper, 1,200 words of student composition, four minutes of audio and video about their topic.