Sixth-graders win research award for paper on Hessian soldiers
Ask most New Cassel residents where the hamlet got its name, and they might respond with a blank stare. But ask Westbury students Alex Mungia and Ryan Alvarez and they’ll quickly respond with a wealth of knowledge.
The two sixth-grade students recently won first place in the State Archives Student Research Award competition, for their paper titled “The Impact of Hessian Soldiers During and Post American Revolutionary War.”
The paper details the effect of the German soldiers who joined the British in fighting against American soldiers, eventually settling in Westbury after the war and calling their new home “New Cassel” after their German homeland of Hesse-Kassel.
Mungia and Alvarez were named winners of the award in September and while the first place spot has garnered them recognition, that wasn’t their focus in undertaking the college-level project.
“Our purpose for this project was really to help future generations learn about their town,” said Alvarez. “There wasn’t really a lot of public information about it, so we tried to research it so it would make it simpler for other generations to find this information.”
The young history buffs completed the project while fifth-graders at Drexel Avenue School, under the guidance of librarian Patricia Matarazzo and with help from Town of North Hempstead Historian Howard Kroplick, Susan Kovarik from the Westbury Historical Society and Steve Russell Boerner, archivist and cartographer.
“In the 24 years I was working, no one’s ever asked to enter the contest,” said Matarazzo. “I was jumping for joy.”
The students spent months sifting through 40 to 50 documents, including maps, pictures, articles and original handwritten letters, to get a better understanding of their hometown’s past. Not only did the boys spend time working on the project afterschool, but on weekends as well, spending hours at the Westbury Historical Society poring over resources.
“It’s really proved to us that hard work does pay off,” Ryan Alvarez.
Their hours of work culminated in a 13-page document that included a cover letter, citations and bibliography.
The boys’ research will go far beyond the pages of the award-winning paper; Alvarez and Mungia, with the help of Matarazzo and Kroplick, are also applying for a historical marker to be placed in New Cassel that will commemorate the influence of the Hessian soldiers.
“To get a marker requires an online application and verification and their project alone is about 98 percent of what we need,” said Matarazzo. “They’ve already done the work.”
Both boys agreed that the project was not easy, but the payoff has been great.
“I felt really good that we helped the community, but also won the contest. We feel really well-achieved,” said Mungia. “It really motivated me to help the community so people in the future can look back to me and Ryan’s work.”
“It’s really proved to us that hard work does pay off,” added Alvarez. “Now, maybe teachers in Westbury will teach their students about Hessian soldiers and their impact here.”
The boys will be recognized at the Oct. 19 Westbury Board of Education meeting, as well as the November Town of North Hempstead board meeting.