Kern County students earned first-place prizes Thursday in three of five categories of the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland.
The national competition is the culmination of a year-long academic program attracting hundreds of thousands participants but advanced less than 3,000 students to national rounds in junior and senior divisions across five categories: exhibits, performances, papers, documentaries and websites.
This year's theme was Rights and Responsibilities in History, and local students placed first in the junior division of group performances and historical papers, and the senior division of group exhibits.
Thorner Elementary School students-- Maxwell Barrera, Logan Eldridge, Kaitlyn Hillis, Alexis Hill and Candace Maurer -- won gold first-place medals in the group performance category of the junior division for their reenactment of the displacement of some 120,000 Japanese-American citizens following Japan's sneak attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941.
They are one of three local entries in the national competition that earned the top honor and $1,000 cash prize awarded each project.
Jessica Stump, a Fruitvale Junior High School student, won a gold medal for her historical paper on the late Henrietta Lacks -- a black woman whose cells were the source of decades of medical research even though her family did not authorize their use.
"I think Henrietta would be very proud of me," Stump said.
She cried when the executive director of National History Day announced she had won the first place prize Thursday at an awards presentation at the conclusion of the June 15-19 competition at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md.
"I thought I was dreaming," Stump said.
Liberty High School students -- Brooke Richter, Makay Moss, Caitlyn Richter and Kaitlyn Moss -- placed first for their three-fold board and model plane on the history of Okie immigrants, who migrated to California during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and later built Arvin Federal Emergency School for the immigrant children.
Students said they presented their exhibit for judges Tuesday without a hitch.
Still when the executive director of the national event began to announce winners Thursday, their hearts pounded and palms sweated.
"We were really really nervous," Brooke Richter said.
When their group was named a first-place winner, each student earned the title of National History Day Scholar.
"We were very excited and elated that our hard work paid off," Brooke Richter said.