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Ripperdan wows History Day judges

Courtesy of Helen Vannucchi

Ripperdan History Day displays that will be taken to the state competition in Rocklin.


That little country school on Avenue 7 is a rather curious thing. It has over a hundred years of history, but we don’t hear much about it these days, not since Madera Unified turned Ripperdan into a community day school.

My guess is that this is the way the district prefers it — although I can’t be absolutely certain about that.

Ripperdan Community Day School is one of Madera Unified’s campuses that provides an “alternative education” to those MUSD students who are in need of extra support to remain in the Madera Unified School District.

Students don’t choose to go to Ripperdan; they are placed there because they need help finding the key that will unlock the sometimes elusive door to an education for them.

The school day for Ripperdan students begins when the school bus pulls up in front of their houses. It ends when it returns them to their homes. In between, their day consists of attending highly structured classes and interacting with a highly caring staff.

Let me hasten to add that “highly structured classes” doesn’t mean mind-robbing regimentation. That helps to explain the phenomenal news that has just emerged from Ripperdan’s history class.

Those kids are going to represent Madera County in the statewide History Day competition in May at William Jessup University in Rocklin!

It all started when, under the guidance of teacher Kevin Garcia, they decided to enter the national History Day competition. Garcia led the students in their search for a topic that would fit this year’s theme, “Triumph and Tragedy.”

They discussed a number of possibilities and choose three: “Island Hopping” in the Pacific theater of World War Two, “Daytime bombing raids” during World War Two, and the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Once they had chosen their topics, they went to work. Breaking up into three teams, the class researched, recorded data, and prepared exhibits to illustrate their findings.

On March 9, 2019, they travelled to Fresno Pacific College for the regional competition. Four students were chosen to defend their illustrated conclusions in front of the judges, and they acquitted themselves well in the academic inquisition.

The judges asked questions; they listened, and then drew their conclusions. They gave the students written and verbal critiques, which were extremely positive, and then came the payoff for all of their hard work.

Those Ripperdan Roadrunner historians, based upon their performance at Fresno Pacific, were invited to compete next month in the state competition, representing Madera County.

I went out to Ripperdan Friday. I had to check this out for myself, and what I witnessed made me a little jealous.

When I entered Garcia’s class, approximately 15 students were working intently at their desks. I felt a little guilty interrupting their labors but not guilty enough to keep quiet. After all, History has been my life for 45 years.

From the back of the room, three massive displays shouted at me with messages from the past: How the Allies penetrated the Pacific to end the war with Japan; The costly but effective daytime bombing raids over Europe; and the courage of Harriet Tubman in the Underground Railroad.

One of the students, sensing my interest, stepped back to the row of displays to explain, with complete abandon, the rationale behind “Island Hopping.” It was truly an exercise in scholarship.

I am so taken with these teenage historians that I might just see if I can go with them to Rocklin next month.

In the meantime, I want to find out more about those Ripperdan Roadrunners and their teachers.

What I do know about the staff is that Helen Vannucchi is the principal, and she has five full time teachers and one part time teacher working with her.

Vannucchi has a ton of experience as an educator, including stints as a vice principal for Madera Unified’s alternative education schools. She was appointed to the Ripperdan principalship in October 2017.

Vannucchi explains the success of her students in the History Day competition by pointing to the “Roadrunner culture.” She insists that Ripperdan students are able to achieve their goals by “connecting with others, serving their community, and reflecting on positive change.”

All of that makes sense, and it may indeed explain why the Ripperdan students have found themselves preparing to represent all of Madera County in the statewide competition.

I can tell our readers this — the Ripperdan Roadrunners have secured an uncommon achievement, and we can be justifiably proud of them, no matter what happens in Rocklin.

And Vannucchi and her staff have kudos coming as well, after all, they are part of that winning Roadrunner culture too.

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