For 10 years students at St. Louis School in Louisville have “made” history by entering the National History Day competition. Though this academic extracurricular program, students prepare a research paper, exhibit, website, documentary or performance—based on a specific historical topic and theme–and present it to a panel of professional educators and historians.
“It’s such a great experience,” said Joan Farus, middle school social studies, literature and language arts teacher at the school for 11 years. “I have seen kids’ lives change with these projects. What a blessing!”
Topics over the years have ranged from the evolution of jazz and the impact of “I Love Lucy,” to the Magna Carta and cultural effects of the Black Plague.
This year Farus helped prepare a group of 11 seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Louis for the Greater Metro Denver Regional Competition March 8 at Colorado University in Denver. While she is on-hand to guide them when needed, she said, the students do the work on their own.
“It’s really what the kids want to do,” she said of the individual and team projects. “They really help each other (and) receive a lot of support from each other.”
The theme for 2014 was “Rights and Responsibilities.” After choosing a historical topic to focus on, students conducted extensive research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. They then analyzed and interpreted the sources and drew conclusions about the topic’s significance in history.
“They learn so much about the topic,” she said. “And really use their analytical abilities.”
Of St. Louis’ seven entries at regionals, among more than 50 overall, four advanced to the final round. In finals, eighth-grader Nikki Gander finished first with her exhibit: “Do with less so they’ll have enough: Rationing on the U.S Home Front During World War II.”
“Nikki is very talented,” Farus said. “She is also pretty artistic as well.”
According to the judges’ comments on her panel presentation, they were impressed with Gander’s wide variety of sources, including microfiche at the University of Colorado library, photographs and documents to explain the progress and the need for rationing.
“Through these methods,” judge wrote, “she applied her thesis regarding the rights and responsibilities in rationing. She is a very thorough and high-level-thinking young woman.”
The first-place finish qualified her for the state competition, at the same location, May 3. There some 15,000 Colorado students participated in National History Day Colorado, an affiliate of National History Day. Gander finished in the top eight in the state. She also qualified for the state competition last year for a presentation on former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr and his role with Japanese American internment camps.
Farus appreciates the opportunities the program brings to the students at St. Louis.
“For me what’s most rewarding as a teacher,” she said, “is to see kids that maybe don’t ‘fit in the mold,’ get to shine.”