By Shawn Raymundo

(From left) Ava Martinez and Sophie Rapeepat, Bernice Ayer Middle School students, show off their historical exhibit on Nancy Wake, a famous operative in the French Resistance during World War II. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Stephens.

Two Bernice Ayer Middle School students can call themselves state champions in this year’s National History Day competition after receiving top honors this month for their historical exhibit on Nancy Wake, a famous operative in the French Resistance during World War II.

Ava Martinez and Sophie Rapeepat were named state champions this month, earning themselves a chance to compete in National History Day’s 2020 National Contest, which will be held virtually next month.

“Participating in National History Day has been hard work and dedication, but it paid off in our final project,” Martinez said in an emailed statement to San Clemente Times. “The experience has taught me the importance of teamwork and having fun along the way.”

The College Park, Maryland-based National History Day is a nonprofit organization event that focuses on education and offers year-long academic programs, engaging middle school- and high school-aged students from across the globe.

The organization selects a theme for each school year for which the students are meant to frame their research. This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers in History.” More than 500,000 students participated in the contest, according to the nonprofit.

Rapeepat noted that the experience competing in the National History Day contest “has been nerve-wracking and even scary.”

But at the same time, the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on,” she said in the emailed statement. “I’ve learned so much from the experience, and simply making it this far in the competition is more than I could have ever hoped for.”

Martinez and Rapeepat, who are competing in the junior group exhibit category, focused their research on Wake, with their exhibit titled “Nancy Wake: ‘The White Mouse’ Resisting the Gestapo and Breaking Gender Stereotypes.”

According to their thesis statement, “Nancy Wake, known by the Nazis as ‘The White Mouse,’ became the most notorious female agent in the French Resistance during WWII. Refusing to be deterred by gender and fueled by a passion to fight anti-Semitism, Wake saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers, fulfilled her promise to fight the Nazi Movement, and broke the barriers of mankind’s social limitations on women.”

The duo had made it to the state championships after winning the county-level competition. They made it there alongside fellow students Gabriela Deyhimy and Nicole Rod, whose research project was titled “Creating their own starts: The story of three African American women who fought to make a difference for NASA.”

Their teacher, Bernice Ayer social studies instructor Jim Stephens, said he was very proud of the students for all of their hard work. “All four of these young ladies are wonderful students with outstanding character,” he said in the email. “It is a remarkable achievement to break through as a finalist in California, because it is known as one of the most competitive states. Knowing how difficult it is to advance to the Nationals from California, these girls are in an elite group.”

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Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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