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Exploring Conflict and Compromise in History: A Recap of Virginia History Day 2018


Next week, 59 Virginia students are headed to the National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland, College Park where they will compete against other middle and high school students from around the world. In response to this year’s theme, “Conflict and Compromise in History,” students as individuals or groups created research projects in the form of either a paper, documentary, performance, exhibit, or website. After months of research, preparation, and regional and state competitions, they’ll reach the final round of judging at the national contest.

NHD 2018 Conflict & Compromise in History logo

Many Virginia students started their historical research last fall, selecting a topic related to the theme and gathering primary and secondary resources. While they could choose a topic from any time period or geographic region, many classroom teachers asked students to find one related to their coursework. 6,750 Virginia students in grades six through twelve participated in this year’s History Day in their classrooms and some then went on to compete in regional contests held at Emory & Henry College, Central Virginia Community College, Radford University, UVA Curry School of Education, Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County, Virginia Wesleyan University, and John Tyler Community College. These district contests were judged by college professors, museum professionals, and other educators and provided students the chance to present their research to a new audience. First- and second-place winners at the district level advanced to compete at the state competition held at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) in April.

Photograph of Virginia History Day winners

For Virginia History Day, VMHC welcomed over 600 students, teachers, and family members from every region of Virginia. With 153 projects submitted by 252 students, it was the largest state contest in years. Over sixty volunteer judges interviewed students about their research and historical interpretation. While the judges deliberated, contestants, teachers, and families explored the museum galleries, created a mural mosaic, had lunch at on-site food trucks, and viewed other students’ projects. Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Steven Constantino, gave a rousing keynote address at the Awards Ceremony followed by the presentation of special awards, category awards, and the Virginia History Day Cup award, presented to George Washington Middle School for the most History Day participation at the classroom level.

To advance past the state level, students needed to place first or second in their project division and category (Senior Group Website, Junior Individual Exhibit, etc.). Every year, thirty-six projects make the cut. But no one’s story to success is the same.

Photograph of a Virginia History Day teacher with two of her students

Virginia History Day teacher with two of her students

Students from William Monroe Middle School in Greene County started their History Day journeys with a trip to VMHC last fall to gather ideas for their research projects. Teacher Stephanie Hammer (center) has been a driving force for History Day within the district and surrounding areas. At the regional contest in March at the UVA Curry School of Education, WMMS students were standouts with 13 Junior Division projects advancing to the state competition (out of 18 spots overall). At Virginia History Day, Ms. Hammer received the Brenton S. Halsey Teaching Excellence Award (a $500 prize). She was also nominated for the James Harris Teaching Award from National History Day, which carries a $5,000 award and will be announced at the national contest next week.

First-time History Day teacher Andrea Pratt, from Haycock Elementary School in Fairfax County, accompanied four of her students to Virginia History Day. Her 6th-graders – Tyler Fontenot, Hollis Freeman, Conor Patton, and Victor Van Vranken – competed in the Junior Division with their group exhibit, “The Heaviest Compromise Dropped on a Conflict,” about President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. With stiff competition from older middle schoolers, the boys won first place. Not only will they compete at National History Day, their exhibit has also been selected to appear in the National History Day Showcase at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on Wednesday, June 13th.

Sarah Deutsch, a 7th-grader at St. John Neumann’s Academy in Blacksburg, won first place at the regional contest at Radford University and continued her streak at the state competition with her individual exhibit, “The Missouri Compromise: A Fire Bell in the Night.” Mia Lazar, a 10th-grader at Blacksburg High School, also secured first place in the Radford district and state contest with her individual documentary, “When Compromise is Unacceptable: Coeducation at the University of Virginia.” VMHC also awarded Ms. Lazar the Bobby Chandler High School Award and a $500 prize for the best senior project focused on Virginia history.

Mickey VanDerwerker, a long-time advocate of Virginia History Day, runs a history club in Bedford for students wanting to do historical research and create evidence-based projects. 12 of her students made it through the regional contest at CVCC in Lynchburg to compete at the state contest. She will be accompanying three of her students to Maryland next week, including 6th-grader Bella Trail, who took first place at Virginia History Day with her individual website, “Alice Paul: Conflict over Suffrage.” Taking the long view, Ms. VanDerwerker hailed Virginia History Day: “The kids that go through us and go on to college said that History Day was the most important thing they did in high school because when they got to college, they were prepared for research, they were prepared for annotated bibliographies, they were prepared to dig in and understand what they were reading in college.”

Becky Cantor, a rising senior at Cosby High School in Chesterfield County, won the Senior Paper category at her district contest at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian campus in March. Judges at the state contest in April awarded her first place for her research paper, “The Rise and Fall of General Rojas Pinilla and the Era of the National Front.” She liked exploring her topic because her mother is from Colombia and enjoyed participating in the state contest, reflecting, “I’ve liked just being here, doing something with my Saturday, instead of sitting at home watching TV like I would be doing.”

Photograph of the 2018 Virginia History Day first and second place winners at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture

2018 Virginia History Day first and second place winners at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture

We wish all 59 Virginia History Day students good luck as they head off to Maryland to compete against over 3,000 students from around the world!

Lizzie Oglesby is the Manager of Public Relations & Marketing at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture. Media are encouraged to contact Lizzie for press inquiries, interviews and photos or videos for publication.

Christina Vida is the Virginia History Day Coordinator and the author of this blog post. Contact Christina if you have questions about Virginia History Day.



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