Education is the ultimate weapon to defeat the forces that divide us. And studying the past is now more important than ever. Because studying the past teaches us about how and why we are all connected and helps us learn about tolerance. – Dr. Cathy Gorn, NHD Executive Director
Last week, Tommy Surdyk became the first Lakeview student to bring a project to National History Day. His project, titled “Lager Beer Riot: Liberty is Served,” was one of two individual exhibits to represent Illinois at this National competition. National History Day is a misnomer, though. We spent five days at the University of Maryland celebrating student historians and learning how to create more in the future. Above all, it was an incredible honor for Tommy to represent Lakeview at this national event. His work isn’t just a product of my classroom, but of strong parent support and a reflection of every Center Cass teacher who has developed his ability.
At Lakeview, we complete research projects that culminate with our History Fair (now part of the Spartan Showcase). A few of our students then advance to the Chicago Metro Fair, and eventually the Illinois History Expo. These contests happen all over the nation; 0ver half a million students compete in this program beyond our district. Ever year, a few hundred of these students represent the best of student historical research for a week at National History Day.
Our first experience with the National component was an education. Students are interviewed a bit more formally than at any level prior. Given this event’s proximity to DC, judging is done by some prominent historians others involved in public service. I was fortunate to work with an Archivist from DC and a highly renowned teacher from Washington DC. Additionally, I met some incredible educators from around the country, exchanging a number of great ideas about teaching history, technology, politics, and history fair projects. This was a remarkable opportunity for me to work with some of the best history teachers in the country.
Tommy was also lucky to interact with students from all over the country, too. One neat way NHD encourages this is through the exchange of buttons or pins. With all 50 states, DC, and a few international delegations, this took considerable time to do. We were also invited to view documentaries and performances, as well as see the exhibits on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Illinois and NHD provided a number of social opportunities for kids along the way, too.
Above all, it was incredibly motivating to spend time with students who love history, hear them discuss political events with the proper context and efficacy, and learn from other educators. I’m enthusiastic to return to work and begin working on History Fair 2017, but even more excited to embed some of what I learned into my curriculum and share with my own colleagues.
With all of Tommy’s success, it’s easy to overlook what an amazing year this was for History Fair. Tommy’s project isn’t just an individual success, but represents the growing enthusiasm of history at Lakeview and History Fair. Every Lakeview project received a Superior rating at State, a first for Lakeview. I believe much of this was possible because of our implementation of “Research Road Trips.” These trips into Chicago provided our students with valuable assistance from professional researchers and access to special collections unavailable online. The great wealth of human and other sources provided by NHD and our local Chicago Metro History Education Center have had a major impact on student leaning and historical research in my room.
Team 66 supported this endeavor with a generous grant to make this whole process possible. From NHD in 2015, to funding our extra History Fair work, to supporting me as I followed Tommy to NHD 2016 – this very post wouldn’t be possible without Team 66’s support. Our students are better because of their support.