When I was a “rookie” teacher in the late 1970s, I discovered a flyer in my school mailbox that invited teachers to try a new endeavor – History Day. With the enthusiasm and naivety that many young teachers possess, I thought I just might have some academically gifted and academically challenged students who would be willing to explore this new program. I never would have imagined that decades later I would still be on a History Day journey not only as a high school classroom teacher, but also as a school sponsor.
The History Day program meets the needs of the academically gifted and the academically challenged students at Central Catholic. Every eighth grade student participates in a school contest; I encourage both the U.S. History classes and the Advanced College Placement U.S. History students to develop History Day entries.
I often urge students to select a topic that relates to their family history, a hobby or interest or has a local or state connection, so that they might personalize and take ownership of their research. Over the years, students have conducted oral history interviews to learn how Prohibition affected their family’s German brewery, how rural electrification improved their grandparents’ lives on the farm in the 1930s and how their immigrant grandparents and parents found their way to Indiana. Other students have explored the impact of a local slander case on a suffragist’s campaign for temperance and voting rights, the rise, influence and decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, and the reactions in 1955 to a state basketball championship by an all African American high school team.
The History Day experience truly is a journey; it takes months to complete. We celebrate the end of the journey with a school contest. As a sponsor I think of the contest and the open house and awards program as a way to recognize the efforts of all the students. Some will “shine” on the journey. They would have met all the deadlines on times, located that “perfect” resource and “nailed” the annual theme. Their achievements certainly reflect high academic accomplishments. Over the years I have seen students who excelled at History Day competitions succeed in college and professional endeavors. Their continued enthusiasm for the History Day program is evident when they support their sons and daughters in the History Day competitions or as teachers promotes the program in their classroom. Others volunteer to judge at our annual school program or the state contests. One faithful CC judge and alum, a 1990 National History Day winner in group exhibits and now a social studies professional, often tells me that he promotes History Day as the best preparation for college work!
Central Catholic has much to be proud of as multiple CC students have qualified for the national competition every year since 1980 and over 60 students have received national recognition from 1st place to Outstanding Indiana State Awards. Yet I have never measured the success of the program only by the award recognition. For some students the road to the contest might be a little “bumpy.” Students can encounter organizational, writing or communication obstacles. I believe that the success of History Day is measured in the individual challenge of the process. The History Day journey encourages personal growth. It expands individual knowledge, teaches time management, develops written and communication skills, and promotes research activity. By facing the challenges students can achieve new academic maturity, self confidence and self esteem in the creation of an original work.
Using the History Day program in the classroom has enriched my teaching experience. I am convinced that History Day in my classroom has opened windows to the past for my students.