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District pulls funds for eighth-grader’s trip to History Day; Earned seat at national event for documentary

By Staff | May 28, 2008

Next month student historians from across the United States will converge at the University of Maryland campus for the 2008 National History Day — all except for local eighth-grader Joe Wecher who may have to stay home after the Lee County School District said it could no longer fund his trip.

“The school board had initially said they would provide us with a considerable amount of funding until Friday when they told us they no longer had that funding,” said Joe’s mother, Kathy.

Joe had made it past the local school fair at Gulf Middle, received first place at the Lee County competition and earned a seat at the National History Day starting June 14. His family expected that he would be attending the national event, but now they are doubting if he will be able to go because of the school board’s decision to deny funding.

“He is the only student from Lee County, and the only one from a public school in Lee County, to the best of our knowledge,” said Kathy Wecher.

On Tuesday Joe was presented with a certificate and personal congratulations from state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, for the documentary.

“Joe Wecher has demonstrated that individual student success is achievable in this country through hard work and dedication. I am very proud of his accomplishment and I look forward to hearing about his success in the future,” said Aubuchon.

Joe’s award-winning project, “No Irish Need Apply,” was a 10-minute documentary following this year’s theme, “conflict and compromise,” as it related to Irish History. Using photographs, interviews and information from the Internet and books, his documentary showed the experiences of Irish immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

He also used online resources from the New York Digital Museum and historical information from museums in Ireland.

The documentary touched on the potato famine, immigration across the Atlantic to Ellis Island and the struggle or discrimination that many immigrants faced. It recently earned first place at the district’s Cypress Film Festival.

National History Day brings together half a million students each year ranging from sixth grade to 12th grade. It is divided into the junior division, including middle school students, and the senior division, including high school students. In each division there are awards given for best individual performance, group performance, individual documentary and group documentary.

Currently, the cost of the trip to Maryland is approximately $5,000 for a week in a hotel, including meals and other fees. Since the competition is much later than others, Kathy Wecher explained, it is difficult to get hotel rooms at discounted rates.

She is currently working with other parents and school officials to organize fund-raising events and to collect grants from local businesses and corporations. They are also asking local residents to provide donations to help fund the trip.

Interested residents can send their donations to Gulf Middle School, 1809 S.W. 36th Terrace, Cape Coral, FL 33914.