As the coronavirus was being recognized for the global scourge that already had resulted in the deaths in China and elsewhere including the United States, home-schooled, 12-year-old Samuel Wright approached Nathan Crawford, a lead public health adviser at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for an interview.
Samuel had won in February a regional award from Georgia Humanities Council for his video concerning the historic role of the CDC, and he wanted to know how the national center was planning to deal with the current pandemic.
The 7th grader at the Scholars Guild Academy in Loganville, an accredited diploma program equipping home-schooled students with quality college-prep courses, was following in the footsteps of what has become a family tradition to create award-winning videos about a large array of historical topics.
Samuel’s video titled “The War on Disease: How the CDC Breaks Barriers in World Health” covers the government’s efforts to combat diseases since the beginning of the republic with President John Adams’ creation of the Marine Hospital Service to contain small pox.
Citing research from sources such as the Library of Congress, the Harry S. Truman Library, the CDC Museum, the Public Health Image Library, and a wide variety of media, the video outlines the government’s efforts to contain yellow fever and cholera epidemics, malaria and typhus in army camps and a polio outbreak throughout the country in the 1950s.
With sources such as William Foege’s memoir “Fears of the Rich, Needs of the Poor,” in which the epidemiologist and former CDC director, provides an overview of the health protection agency’s evolution, Samuel traces the agency’s growth and development into a global resource.
In addition to other interviews including those with Mr. Crawford, Amy Bailey, deputy director at the CDC’s division of of Global HIV & TB for Thailand and Laos, and John Young, professor emeritus of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, Samuel’s video also points to ways in which the CDC aims to cope with health challenges in the future.
Although the interviews with Mr. Crawford and Ms. Bailey won’t be able to be added to the video before submission for the state contest, they will be included among the sources and enable him to provide up-to-date perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic when he competes statewide and perhaps nationally.
His meeting with Mr. Crawford was arranged with the help of a classmate at the Scholars Guild and is representative of the cleverness and enterprise with which he and his brothers have taken on their video projects.
Samuel’s 15-year-old brother, Daniel, a 10th grader, is a video veteran who cannily decided to provide an overview of World War I in 2017 when the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. entry into the “War to end all wars” was being re-examined throughout the country.
He received a special award from the World War I Centennial Commission for his video “An Unpeaceful Treaty — How the Paris Compromise Ignited Conflict,” which examined the treaty’s role in prompting World War II but also how the United States may have indirectly aggravated Germany’s belligerence by ceasing its loans supporting the country’s economy recovery during the Great Depression.
At the time it also was the most recent in a family line of winning Georgia National History Day documentaries that go back seven years to his brother Nathan’s video, “A Change of Heart: Vivian Thomas and the Blue Baby Surgeries,” which was a finalist in the 2013 national competition.
National History Day is a College Park, Md., non-profit organization that engages more than a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of their choice. Students enter these projects at the local and affiliate levels, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.
In Georgia, National History Day is a program of the Georgia Humanities Council and LaGrange College, which attracts more than 10,000 middle and high school students annually who delve into historical subject matter by developing research papers, exhibits, documentaries, performances and websites.
Nathan’s choice to focus on the career of Vivian Thomas was a natural given that he was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent several surgeries as an infant. The recognition he received for this video encouraged him to compete in following year with documentaries about the life of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild who was the rabbi of the Atlanta Temple when it was bombed in 1958, and the business and military careers of General Lucius D. Clay and the war correspondence of Ernie Pyle.
Inspired by his older brother’s successes in the National History Day competitions, Daniel tried his own hand at a documentary, this one focused on the life of Walter White, an African-American civil rights activist, who was light-skinned, had blonde hair and blue eyes and who decided to be an African-American activist instead of passing into white society by leading the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1931-55.
Motivated by his videos on World War I and civil rights topics, Daniel has completed several others including an overview of the Harlem Globetrotters and most recently: “A Terrible Beauty Exploded: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Space Challenger.”
The Challenger video traces the reason for the explosion — the failure of the O-ring seals used in the joint on the solid rocket motor, which Daniel cited as “a $900 O-ring that brought down a $1 billion spacecraft.”
He has even tried acting in a light hearted video review of the book, “Where the Red Fern Grows.”
Allison Wright told Global Atlanta that she and her husband, Jason, provided only minimal assistance in the production of these videos, which have become a genuine family affair with three of her four sons now involved. The eldest Caleb is a senior at the University of Georgia and is following in his father’s footsteps in business as a risk management, insurance major at the Terry College of Business.
A devoted teacher, Mrs. Wright acknowledges that she recognized her love of learning and desire to become a teacher even as a child. The family’s decision to pursue home schooling was not a reaction against any public school system and considers public school teachers as “heroes” pursuing a noble profession.
The home-schooling decision came about mostly as a matter of personal preference and a desire to share her love of learning with her own children, she added. But she credited her sons’ immersion into creating videos as their own motivation, which she encouraged due to the educational value involved in exposure to historical topics, research, analysis and development of production skills.
The link to Samuel’s video about the CDC can’t be published until the statewide and national competitions are completed.