The Belle Vernon Student History Project presented by the White House Historical Association

In the spring of 1918, as German troops massed near the Marne in France to mount a second spring offensive in World War I, more than two dozen delegates representing the Slovak League of America, the Czech National Alliance, the Union of Czech Catholics and other ethnic alliances met in Pittsburgh.

Their goal was to create a new independent nation from part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire: Czechoslovakia.

Cassandra Lofgren, an eighth-grade student at Belle Vernon, researched what came to be known as the “Pittsburgh Accord” as part of her National History Day project.

He was part of a group chosen to be featured by venues and organizations across Washington, D.C., after competing through the Maryland-based nonprofit organization that hosts World Heritage Day each year. national history.

“I know there are Czechs in my family and I wanted to know more about their experiences,” said Lofgren, 14, of Rostraver.

Lofgren is a student in the social studies class of Belle Vernon area middle school teacher Ross Farmer.

“We’ve been doing National History Day for about 15 years now,” Farmer said. “It’s open to anyone, but recently we had two classes of eighth graders specifically chosen to participate.”

Farmer said giving students the freedom to choose their own piece of history to study helps bring extra variety to the lessons.

“You teach much of the same curriculum every year, but with National History Day, it gives me and the kids the chance to pursue something different and unique.”

Another Westmoreland County student, Humna Anzaar of Franklin Regional Middle School, is awaiting the results of the national level competition, after taking first place at the state level.

Lofgren’s project,Steel City Diplomacy: Tomas Masaryk, the Pittsburgh Accord, and the Establishment of Czechoslovakia’s Independenceis featured on the White House Historical Association website, WhiteHouseHistory.org. Other sites include the Ford Theater, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the Planet Word Language Arts Museum.

Three months after the signing of the Pittsburgh Accords in May 1918, the Paris Peace Conference carved out Austria-Hungary and created the new nation of Czechoslovakia in January 1919. In 1920, Masaryk was elected the new republic’s first president, post which he held until 1935.

“The most surprising thing was finding out how long it took Tomas and the delegates to form the country,” Lofgren said. “It took a while.”

A Pennsylvania historical marker at Penn Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown Pittsburgh notes the location where the 1918 agreement was signed. The Pittsburgh area was second only to Chicago in migration from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, with over half a million people coming to the area.

To learn more about National History Day, visit NHD.org.

Patrick Varine is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Andrew B. Reiter