Jonestown Project Finishes Third in Florida Competition

Kaitlin Thornburg and Nina Barron(Kaitlin Thornburg and Nina Barron were juniors in high school in St. Petersburg, Florida when they participated in their “National History Day” project on Jonestown.)

From Kaitlin Thornburg: When presented with the assignment for National History Day, I had no idea what in fact it would entail. All I knew was that I had to pick a topic that was both a triumph and a tragedy. But what would or could I pick? I wanted something interesting, something that I had never heard of. Most of all I wanted a topic that would keep me interested and wanting to learn more.

The topic of Jonestown came to me in an off way. I was desperate. Neither I nor my partner had come up with something that we both liked. So with no other choices, I asked my parents what they thought would be a good topic. My dad thought for a moment and then said, “The Jonestown Massacre.” Of course, I had never heard of this before and I wanted to know more. He said that, “It was something that people try to forget about in their history, something they aren’t proud of.”

I talked the topic over with Nina (who also had never heard of it before) and she agreed that this topic was exactly what we were looking for. The research part was a learning experience. I had done research projects before, but never to this extent. The more I learned about Jonestown, the more I was surprised that I had never heard about it before. No history text books mention it, nor had my history teachers. When we told people what we were doing, their response was either “Oh, that, yes now I remember,” or “What’s Jonestown?” I was surprised! Are not we meant to learn from our history? But how can we learn from our mistakes if we never learned about them?

Jonestown was what we would call “a good thing gone bad.” It was meant to be a “heaven on earth” for the followers of Peoples Temple. One survivor even said, “It was a place that I wanted to raise my grandchildren.” So how can we, on purpose, want to forget Jonestown? Jim Jones was not in a state of mind to have the position of power that he had. There were warning signs that were ignored. When Jonestown was finally put under investigation, it was too late.

I learned a lot from doing Jonestown as our project. I learned to never think that anything is impossible. I never thought that anyone would respond to our e-mails or want to be interviewed by two high school students.

Jonestown Project Finishes Third in Florida Competition I also learned to not underestimate what one can do. Nina and I came in to this project totally naive, but we came out of it more confident and knowledgeable of what is happening in the world. I learned to ask questions and not give up. Finally, I learned that if you have enough determination, you will succeed in what you want to do.

From Nina Barron: My partner Kaitlin and I went on to the state level of the competition in Tallahassee, Florida. There must have been 40 other competitors in our category (Group Exhibit). We interviewed with three judges about what all was on our board (the quotes from our interviewees; pictures; and the knowledge we acquired from conducting this research project). After the first round of judging there, was a second silent round of judging, and no one was allowed in the room at that time. This was the round when judges cut it down to only four (out of about 40).

We finished in third place in the state! Not good enough to continue to the national level (only second and first place finishers continued to the national level), but a significant accomplishment nonetheless!

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on February 28th, 2014.
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