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Pagosa students compete at regional History Day

Southwest Colorado History Day was held March 3, 2011, with 25 students from Pagosa Springs Middle School participating in the competition and five students receiving awards.

Two entries qualified to compete in the state competition on May 7. The national theme for 2011 is Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures and Consequences.

Ben Bard and Coleman Smith, eighth-graders, placed first with their performance, “The Debate that Started it All,” which was a reenactment of portions of the 1960 Nixon/Kennedy presidential debate.

“We picked out the parts of the debate that were the most important,” stated Bard, “and that related best to current events.”

Smith explained that they got their suits, shirts and ties from the Community United Methodist Thrift Store and stated that, “The upstairs costume area of that place is awesome.” Bard played the role of Nixon and Smith reenacted Kennedy from a script they wrote.

Eighth-graders Michelle Parker and Jennifer Smith placed third with their video documentary, titled “The Abortion Debate.” Smith remarked that this was a great learning experience. During their eight-minute video, they filmed each other explaining the issue and included many visual aids and interviews. They used their own video equipment, did the editing themselves, and did work at home and at school. They got help from several teachers including Mrs. McCabe, Ms. Royer, Mrs. Cowen and school nurse Mrs. Margiotta.

“I’m so excited to go to state,” exclaimed Parker.

There are five categories of competition: Historical Papers, Performance, Video Documentary, Website and Exhibit. The top three winners in each category earn the honor to participate in Colorado State History Day. Both winning teams will participate in this event on May 7 at the University of Colorado, Auraria Campus.

Owen Sutton was the only sixth-grader to participate in the competition and placed fourth with his exhibit, “The Legitimacy of Money in Ancient Greece.”

When asked if he was nervous in his first-ever History Day competition, Owen remarked, “No, I wasn’t that nervous because I’ve done this in swim meets before.”

Ten other eighth-grade students were present with their projects and each presented in the Exhibit category. Spence Scott and Trey Spears presented “To Spray or Not to Spray,” the debate about banning DDT. Tyler Harbur and Kyle Leewitt presented “The Holy Alliance” about the 1815 union with Russia, Prussia and Austria against the French Revolution. Haven Karr, Fiona Romain and Toby Sutton created an elaborate display titled “Medical Marijuana?” that included a display board cut in the shape of a cannabis leaf. Ben Miller and David McRee created a rotating triangular display about the three-way “Treaty of Ghent.” J.C. Parsons presented the debate of “Evolution versus Creation” with a display board colored like the heavens and including special lighting.

“I love seeing how these projects come together in the end. For me, History Day allows my students to appreciate history in a more personal way that inspires them to dig deeper into very diverse topics. I am very proud of all the eighth-graders who finished their projects this year and I look forward to the seventh-graders expanding their experiences next year,” said a beaming Scott White, eighth-grade history teacher.

The seventh-grade class was also represented by ten students who competed in several different categories. A historical paper on “Mexican Repatriation” was presented by Annalee Nevarez. Cierra Caler created an exhibit about Jackie Robinson as the first player in major league baseball and the controversy it caused. The exploits of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were outlined in Marissa Perdee’s exhibit. In the website creation category, which saw an increase in participants this year at the regional level, were four Pagosa teams. Ian Roth and Michael Iverson debated the “Meeker Massacre;” Andrew Cersonsky and Kyle Kirsop presented “Gandhi’s Salt March;” Liam O’Brien outlined “The History of Esperanto;” and Gavin Ross and Sam Chronowski presented “Marquis de Lafayette.”

“History Day is a chance for our students to do what they enjoy and we’re lucky to have this elective class. Students get to research topics that have captured their interests. They learn to use and interpret primary documents. It’s a real growth experience and it’s great fun. I’m very proud of my seventh graders,” Sally High, seventh-grade history teacher, exclaimed.

While students agreed that this is a lot of work, most everyone agreed with Gavin Ross who stated, “It was fun and I really learned a lot.”

The day was long, especially waiting for personal interviews, but Haven Karr commented, “It was cool seeing other people’s exhibits,” and Fiona Romain stated, “It was helpful getting suggestions from the judges on how to improve a presentation.”

Middle school students can create a history day project by choosing the history day elective in the second quarter. Students work within the class period to start and develop their project. First, they find a topic of interest that they can expand into a full project. Initially, the students put their idea into the framework of the theme. Then they set out to gather the information they need to make their case. Each competitor is required to create a format to display all the components of the project which include the successes, failures and consequences of the debate. They are required to write a process paper and bibliography. At the competition, materials are reviewed and individual interviews are conducted by qualified judges.

Regional competitors were from the Durango and Pagosa school districts with over 125 participants in the competitive classes from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Held at the Ft. Lewis College Union Building, many judges and adult volunteers make the day happen.

National History Day is an opportunity for teachers and students to engage in real historical research in which students learn history by selecting a topic of interest and launching into a research project. In this meaningful method for students to study historical issues, ideas, people and events, they also practice critical inquiry: asking questions of significance, time and place.

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