The Power of History Day

Each year, thousands of students statewide work diligently with their dedicated social studies teachers on projects for the Maryland History Day Competition. Often we hear from students, parents, and teachers, about the positive effect History Day has in the classroom and in student’s lives, teaching them important skills needed later in life and fostering discipline and critical thinking skills. As a result, many kids get a boost of self-confidence by completing a long-term, challenging task.

On March 26th, we received this lovely thank you note from RaeLynne Snyder, a teacher at Patterson Park Public Charter School, who was recognized with the Central District History Day Teacher of the Year Award. We think her account easily demonstrates the power of History Day.

Thank you, RaeLynne, for allowing us to share your letter of thanks. Do you have a History Day story to share?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below, or send us an email at info@mdhc.org.  We’d love to hear from you.

Hello All-

I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for all that you do to make History Day happen.  I want to share with you how much this competition has meant for me and my students.

It all started for these current eighth graders at the end of the 2011 school year. I sent home with their final report cards an invitation to the 2012 History Day competition. They received the theme and were asked to think about a topic they might be interested in for the fall.

When the students returned in September we walked over to the southeast anchor branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system. They received a tour and database training by the youth librarian. The students learned how to look up books that pertained to their topics. Some topics were eliminated very quickly when the students saw how few books were available.  Some students found many books and hurriedly rushed out into the library holding the paper where they had scribbled down the name of the books that they were looking to find. They found out very quickly that it was actually that strange group of numbers that was going to be their ticket to success in the library. They came away from that day knowing how to go to the shelves and find a book using the system created by the Library of Congress.

Eventually it was our time to make it down to the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. We had a tour and a training in the Periodical section. This was a hard day for the kids. How were these huge, dusty, green books (The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature) going to be of any help to them? The print was small, they had to decipher strange abbreviations and they were forced to rely on the librarian to be able to find the material for them.  I came away from this day disheartened, until I found out later that a group had become quite obsessed with the Periodical department and had asked their parents to take them back there several times since our training.

It was the second trip back to the main branch where I really saw the difference in my students.  They had used the EPFL database from my classroom to look up books on their topics, so when we went to the library they already knew what they were looking to find in the shelves. The librarians were ready for us and we were ready for them. The students were set free, lists in hand to find the books they had looked up before coming. We took over the second floor, my class, all sitting peacefully, surround by dozens of books. They were combing through them, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to leave. The librarians were astonished. These are eighth graders? We were told that we were invited back anytime. Everybody felt accomplished that day, teachers, students and librarians. Every group came away with a stack of books.

A few days later the language arts teacher stops me in the hallway- “I just wanted you to know that during silent reading today- Jason was reading a book on Joseph McCarthy- I assume that has something to do with you.”

There were so many amazing moments along the way. Brandi contacted a professor from Georgetown University, on her own, and the professor agreed to meet her at our school for an interview.  Brandi conducted the interview and used it in her paper. Brandi now knows how to contact people in a professional manner, has conducted an important interview, has learned how to cite and use that interview in a paper. Does it get any better than that?

In a time when social studies instruction is being marginalized and treated like it is an unworthy child in the education system- it is very validating to see how much the children learn from this History Day process.  I not only know how important social studies instruction is, I can prove it. I have thirty children who have completed projects that rival anything that they have done in their middle school career. And, yes, they did it with their social studies teacher. Marquel stopped me on the way out of class one day. He said “Ms. Snyder, this project has been a pain in the butt, but man did I learn a lot.” And Brandi said on the day of the competition “Ms. Snyder, I had no idea how much fun today was going to be. This whole experience has been totally epic.”

I agree Brandi. I agree.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention my award before I go. I cannot possibly articulate how much it meant to be recognized in front of my students and my peers.  Thank you so much. It is deeply, deeply appreciated.

Sincerely,

RaeLynne Snyder
Middle School Social Studies
Patterson Park Public Charter School

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