I love National History Day because it inspires students to reach levels beyond my wildest imagination.
I mentor a group of homeschooled students who are working on National History Day projects. We meet weekly at our local public library. The students work on their research, and I wander around, answer questions, and provide guidance and encouragement when needed. I have had students study everything from the war of independence in Cyprus to the big bang theory, and we have had some amazing experiences together.
- I worked with a group of students who put on white cotton gloves and went through folders of old newspaper articles and photos at the local historical society. I took a ninth grader to the George Peabody Library where he was able to read a book published in 1758. My students have visited the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the National Postal Museum, the Food and Drug Administration and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. They have interviewed two Nobel Prize winning physicists and a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. Museum archivists have sent them rare photos and unpublished primary sources, and have offered insight and direction.
National History Day also helps students connect with the community. One year, I had a group of middle school girls who studied the desegregation of our local schools. They interviewed three women who were among the first black students to attend white schools in our county. One of these ladies came to the district competition. When she looked at the exhibit, her eyes filled with tears. She hugged the girls and thanked them for taking the time to hear her story.
Listen to Christine Pritt read her essay on WYPR’s Humanities Connection.
Students also develop vital skills that they will need throughout their lives. They learn to tackle a difficult project, to persevere and to keep plodding on when the work seems overwhelming. And they learn that the satisfaction of a job well done makes it worth all the effort that went into it. They learn to work with others who have different strengths and weaknesses.
They learn to communicate clearly and to compromise when necessary, to take criticism gracefully and to give advice gently. They face the nervousness of standing before the judges, and they come away with new found confidence and eloquence. I have watched an extremely shy student come out of her shell and beam with excitement as she answered judges’ questions about her documentary on the Pony Express. I have cheered when a seventh-grader who could only sit still for a couple of minutes at a time won first place in the state for his website on the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
Year after year, my National History Day students amaze me. I expect a lot from them, and they always go far beyond what I can imagine.
Christine Pritt was named the 2013 Patricia Behring Middle School History Day Teacher of the Year in Maryland. The Maryland History Day Competition, coordinated in our state by the Maryland Humanities Council, is much more than one day—each student spends on average more than 70 hours envisioning, researching, and fine-tuning a research project based upon an annual theme. More than 19,000 public, private, parochial, and homeschool students enter from all corners of our state. Photo: Christine receives her award from Maryland Senate President Mike V. Miller, Jr. at the 2013 State Competition. Photo by Mitro Hood.