Kaysville sixth-graders headed to national history contest

Monday , May 12, 2014 - 12:50 PM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

KAYSVILLE – Two Burton Elementary sixth-graders are planning an unexpected trip Washington, D.C. to represent Utah as one of two teams qualified from the state to attend the National History Day competition in June.

The project that launched Hailey and Hayden Liddell, fraternal twins from Kaysville, to the top of the district, regional, and state competitions was their website with information and personal stories involving downwinders in Utah, people affected by nuclear testing done by the government in Nevada during the1950s and '60s.

The siblings wanted to determine if the government had the right to conduct the tests without informing citizens of the dangers. And then when people were contaminated, whether the government has a responsibility to pay for the damages the testing caused.

The idea for their project began taking shape when the two visited the National Atomic Testing Museum in Nevada on a family trip. Hayden and Hailey were shocked to learn about the effects of nuclear testing.

“We knew that people had to fight for their rights, but we found out the government lied and covered up their lies,” said Hailey. “It made us kind of scared. Why would our government do that?”

Hailey and Hayden began wondering about their own family when they realized that several of their family members who had grown up in northern Utah during the time of nuclear testing in Nevada had been affected by cancer and thyroid issues.

“We wanted to do something that relates to Utah since we live here, and we wanted to see if the illnesses in our family related to this,” said Hayden.

Their website, “Taking Responsibility for the Forgotten Guinea Pigs: The Downwinder’s Story,” fit in well with this year’s National History Day theme -- Rights and Responsibilities of History.

Hayden and Hailey began working on their project, which can be viewed at http://20842327.nhd.weebly.com/. While one did research, the other started putting together the page on the website with the information they found. Then they would switch responsibilities.

One of the highlights of their project was attending the National Downwinders Day event on Jan. 27 in Salt Lake City where they heard people share stories of the atomic bombs they experienced. Hayden remembers one man who was within 100 miles of the Hiroshima bomb when it detonated.

"I was very intrigued and hurt by what happened to those people,” said Hayden. “I feel bad for them, but it happened in the past and we can’t change that, but we can change the future.”

Hailey was touched by two women whose family grew up in St. George. They talked about their mom and sister, who passed away because of the atomic fallout.

“If I was them, I would be really freaked out and mad,” said Hailey.

As Hailey and Hayden embark on their journey to the country’s capital, they are scared and nervous.

“There are going to be a lot of people since it is a huge competition, which means we have a lot to go up against,” said Hayden.

However, the pair were shocked to learn how much it would cost them to get to Washington, D.C. They need to have $2,500 raised by mid-May, so they are racing to raise funds through yard sales and other fund-raising efforts.

Watching her kids work on the project and make it this far has been rewarding for their mom, Jennifer Liddell.

“Overall, I think it’s been a life-changing experience in a lot of ways and for them, seeing history in person was a completely different experience than reading it from a book,” said Liddell, referring to her kid’s experience at the National Downwinders Day event.

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