By documenting the past, three students advanced to national level of the National History Day Competition earlier this month.
Junior Sadie Keller, junior Celie Davison and senior Rose Kennedy’s projects earned spots at the national competition in College Park, Md. that will take place in June. Junior Kennedy Dold’s project is an alternate.
The students continually made their projects stronger after showings at the regional and state competitions.
“Everyone from Lawrence High who competed [made] it to state,” junior Celie Davison said.
Nearly half a million students in the United States competed in regional-level National History Day contests. Competitors chose historic events, people or ideas related to the year’s theme, researched the events and presented their findings.
“The project development is done entirely on their own time, making their accomplishments all the more amazing,” AP US history teacher Valerie Schrag said. “They must be able to communicate their research and analysis in visual and written form and are required to defend their conclusions in front of a panel of judges. In short, they are exemplary students and scholars.”
This year’s theme is “Rights and Responsibilities in History,” which made choosing a topic easy for some competitors. Kennedy was inspired to research the St. Louis building project Pruitt Igoe, where the U.S. government conducted illegal chemical testing on the residents, after hearing an intriguing NPR story the previous year.
“I didn’t really think of [Pruitt Igoe] for a History Day project until I heard an NPR story about the chemical testing there, which fascinated me because it’s such a horrible thing to do,” Kennedy said. “I researched it more and chose my topic when I heard what this year’s theme was.”
The research and creation of the final product required hours upon hours of work often began months before deadlines.
“We started researching in October or September, we didn’t really start the intense work until the beginning of the semester,” Kennedy said.
Students who participated recognize how the competition could ultimately benefit them.
“My friend Rose Kennedy had done it the year before and done very well,” Davison said. “She had a great time and said that it was a great experience, so I decided I might as well. Also, you get extra credit for it in your history class which is helpful.”
Classroom credit aside, participating in History Day has greater benefits such as improved writing and studying techniques.
“I’m now really good at MLA format on works cited pages, and I’m now used to researching at libraries and being judged on historical research, as well as presenting it,” Kennedy said.
Not only is the contest helpful in that it forces students to practice finding and citing sources, but also the process develops skills that will be needed to complete research in a college library.
“It has helped me learn how to do good research through a college library, and I think I’m going to be able to use those skills really well over the next couple years,” Davison said.
Along with building skills, the work has allowed students to strengthen bonds with their history teachers.
As a second-time competitor, Kennedy scheduled specialized work time with her AP US teacher Jack Hood to allow work time for her project.
“This year, I have an independent study with him during first hour, and every panic attack I have about History Day I just ask, and he helps me with it,” Kennedy said.
But in the end, all of the days spent researching in the library were worth it.
“Presenting the research is so rewarding because you spent so many hours working on it,” Kennedy said. “Everyone should do it.”
Schrag predicts the three national qualifiers will diligently represent Kansas at the national competition.
“I know that our national qualifiers will represent Lawrence High and Kansas quite well,” Schrag said. “They are competing along with over 2,500 students from across the United States and the international Department of Defense schools, making the competition rather stiff. The true honor is to be invited to compete at National History Day.”