by Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Three hundred-twenty middle and high school students from the South Puget Sound took part in the regional-level National History Day event on March 23, 2017. Students represented ten schools from King County south of Interstate 90 to the county border, Pierce, and Thurston Counties. Ninety-three were selected as state finalists and will go on to represent the South Puget Sound at the State competition, which takes place at Green River Community College on April 29, 2017.

National History Day is an academic enrichment program for students in grades 6-12. Students select topics connected to an annual theme and complete their own in-depth research on the topic. This year, the theme is “Taking A Stand in History”. Students present their conclusions by creating museum-style exhibits, media documentaries, research papers, interactive websites, and dramatic performances. Many teachers and students are posting photos and videos of their projects using the hashtag #NHD2017

The annual theme provides a way to increase students’ historical understanding by developing a lens to read history,” said National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “When we chose this theme a few years ago, we had no idea how relevant it would be in 2017.”

The students choose the topic within the theme of the year. Their process then is in-depth research, coming up with a thesis, analysis, synthesis, creating their entry and then they get feedback at the contest from the judges. Students start in September with their project. The feedback they get from the judges helps them make their projects better or lets them know why they didn’t move on in the competition. Either way, they learn to be a better researcher.

The kids today are competing to go to State April 29th. They have been working really hard for several months and it all comes together today. This is a big deal to these kids,” said Mark Vessey from the Washington State Historical Society and the Washington State Director of National History Day.

One judge at the South Puget Sound Regionals works for the Washington State Arts Commission now, but was a National History Day participant when she was in school. As was another judge who is now a Bates Technical Film student. They both remember clearly the themes that they had when they were students. Participating in National History Day influenced how they did research, how they interview people and how they approached school afterwards.

One of the many documentaries presented was called “The End of a War That Never Started”, by Cole, Tanner and Lucky. Their thesis was that JFK took a stand against the Soviets before the Cuban Missile crisis started. They also showed the Cuban Missile crisis from the Soviet perspective which was interesting. To Americans the threat was a shock, but Europeans have always had “enemies at the door”, so it wasn’t as shocking to the Soviets. In the end, they said, we learned how to avoid a nuclear war.

The judges then questioned the creators about why they picked this topic, what resources they used, why they chose a documentary vs. something else, what problems they had, what software they used and to explain how their topic supported the theme. They answered the questions very decisively.

The exhibit room was full of tri-fold displays covering as many topics as you could imagine. Most of the people were kept out so the judges could speak with individual project creators distraction free. Three judges interviewed the students who worked on each project, asking them about their process, the most interesting thing they learned, where they did their research and other probing questions that would result in constructive feedback.

It is a competition, so a lot of the kids looked nervous before their turn and relieved afterward. They all were dressed professionally for their presentations, rarely do you see so many kids in suits in one spot.

One of the performance pieces was called “Standing For the Right to Be Who She Was” by Amandisa. The young lady presented all by herself, standing in front of the room giving a speech she memorized, several times sitting down pretending to write a letter or read something. The judges asked her how she found her topic, how much time she spent researching, and why she picked performance vs. another way of presenting.

I’ve performed at Green River for ten years, so performing is my life. When I found out performing was a choice, I knew that’s what I’d do,” said Amandisa.

Standing up in front of everyone, speaking, is very brave, said one parent.

Jason, young man who just finished his research paper debriefing, said that the project was originally an assignment given by his history teacher.

But this year I figured out how to fit Nintendo into National History Day which made it super fun,” said Jason, who found out later that he won first place in the Senior Historical Paper Category. He said the hardest part was figuring out what to put in the paper and what to leave out.

The website category had already been judged, so the students were asked about their experience overall. What did they think was the goal of this whole experience? They came up with some good answers: to improve interview skills, to make parallels to today through history, how to make a good website.

Joshua Murphy, history teacher and an organizer for the South Puget Sound Region also added a few things: how to see if a source is credible, how to figure out if something is real or fake, is it the whole story or just part of it, and skills like how to write, argue, think, analyze, interpret, research and to distinguish secondary vs. primary sources.

The regional event is the second step in a competition cycle that can take students from the school level to regional, state, and national competitions. At each level of competition students share their work with their peers, historians, educators, and professionals in related fields as they complete for special awards and the opportunity to advance to the next level of competition.

You just need a teacher to sponsor you, it doesn’t need to be a class or school thing. Anyone can compete (in History Day),” said Joshua Murphy.

After competing at local and regional contests, the top projects in each category advance to the State contest. The top two projects in each category are invited to the National History Day Contest held June 11-15, 2017 at the University of Maryland in College Park. Within each category, the first place winner receives $1,000, the second place winner receives $500, and the third place winner receives $250.

Simply completing a National History Day Contest project is an accomplishment,” said Gorn. “But these students do so much more. They conduct original historical research and often uncover history that was unknown. They learn skills that will help them both in college and their careers. And above all, they develop a passion for learning.”

Founded in 1974 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the National History Day Contest was created to inspire students to conduct original historical research. Since its creation, the contest has grown to an international competition that, in its 43 year history, has reached millions of students and teachers.

At lunch the students were going over how it went, some laughing, some studying, all receiving words of encouragement from the adults with them.

There are 93 students moving on to the Washington State Competition. The First Place winners for each category in the South Puget Sound Region were:

Historical Paper

Junior First Place: “Lilly Ledbetter: The Struggle for Equal Pay”, Student: Jenna Carlson, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Senior First Place: “Kong v. Kong: Nintendo’s Fight Against Universal in the Universal Studios v. Nintendo Case”, Student: Jason Woolley, School: Kent Mountain View Academy, Des Moines, WA

Individual Exhibit Section 1

Junior First Place: “By Any Means Necessary”, Student: Grant Miller, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Individual Exhibit

Senior First Place: “The Fight for Voting Rights”, Student: Tobias Sednef, School: Kent Mountain View Academy, Des Moines, WA

Individual Exhibit Section 2

Junior First Place: “Alice Paul Suffragist”, Student: Lauryn Ramey, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Group Exhibit Section 1

Junior First Place: “Kent State Shootings: Losing Lives to Save Lives”, Students: Adam Dauble & Jayden Ong, School: McKnight Middle School, Renton, WA

Group Exhibit

Senior First Place: “Rappers ‘Stand Tall’ Against Racism”, Students: Cory Hinthorn, Joseph Conway, Kevin Le & Brandon Ducusin, School: John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, Burien, WA

Group Exhibit Section 2

Junior First Place: “The Life of Frances Perkins”, Students: Faith Krachunis & Kylee Mroos, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Individual Performance

Junior First Place: “Hanoi Jane or Hero Jane?”, Student: Isabella Lamb, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Senior First Place: “Elizabeth Hamilton and Her Work with Children at Her Orphanage”, Student: Joelle Egbert, School: Kent Mountain View Academy, Des Moines, WA

Group Performance

Junior First Place: “The Anti-Nepotism Policy: Standing up to the Typecast of Women at the UW”, Students: Chelsea Davatos & Rose Kelly, School: McKnight Middle School, Renton, WA

Individual Documentary

Junior First Place: “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose”, Student: Lauren Gendreau, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Senior First Place: “The Devil’s Music: Heavy Metal in the 80’s”, Student: Maria-Victoria Kovalsky, School: Kent Mountain View Academy, Des Moines, WA

Group Documentary

Junior First Place: “Ghandi: Using Non-Violent Resistance Against British Oppression”, Students: Akhil Srinivasan & Ryan Zumwalt, School: McKnight Middle School, Renton, WA

Senior First Place: “Taking a Stand by Doing Nothing: Two Men Who Saved the World”, Students: Libby Williams & Isaac Ruymen, School: Kentwood High School, Kent, WA

Individual Website

Junior First Place: “Homeland Hero of Myanmar”, Student: Riley Campbell, School: Mattson Middle School, Covington, WA

Senior First Place: “1968: Salute”, Student: Heidi Xu, School: Charles Wright Academy, Tacoma, WA

Group Website

Juniors First Place:

Juniors First Place: “Crusade Against Lynching: Ida B. Wells and her Fight for Equality”, Students: Baeza Lakew & Morgan Fong, School: Cedar Heights Middle School, Kent, WA

Seniors First Place: “Cesar Chavez Farm Workers Hero”, Students: Stephany Alcantar, Evangely Lemus-Colon & Angela Nava, School: Auburn Mountainview High School, Auburn, WA

Participation in the program continues to grow with more than 500,000 students participating annually across the nation. The National History Day program in Washington is coordinated by the Washington State Historical Society.

This year National History Day joined more than 150 historical organizations around the country to endorse the History Relevance Value Statement and declare the importance of teaching and learning history. History studies create a sense of awareness and identity, cultivate critical thinking and analytical skills, and lay the groundwork for empowered communities. They preserve the past and spark inspiration for the future.

To celebrate, National History Day is urging history fans to post a selfie enjoying their favorite historical spot, and use the hashtag #HistoryRelevance.

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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