Two years ago, I met with my high school colleagues to work on getting our middle schools students better prepared for high school. Their number one issues... Research! My media specialist, Ava Biffer, pulled me aside and talked to me about this opportunity called Connecticut History Day. She had judged for years and really wanted to bring it to our school. I began by judging at States to get a tastes, and I was hooked! The potential was too good to be true!
We worked as department with Rebecca Taber-Conover and set it into motion fall of 2016. It was a real learning curve! We started too late, had no idea of how intense this would be, and made it to our Regional competition deadline by the skin of our teeth. It also didn't help that we had so many school cancellations. We have a population of 240 students in grades 6-8. 101 students competed at a school competition, 30 went on to Regionals, four students went on to States, where one of our students came in 3rd place for their individual website on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising! We felt we were really on to something. All of our social studies teachers went to PD for the Fall Educators Workshop that featured Minnesota's longtime coordinator, Tim aka "Mr. History" Hoogland and some of the judges from the Regional and State contests. I can't say enough about taking on the role of a judge. It is the best way to really understand this program.
We knew we were on to something. We asked Rebecca to come to our school last fall and give all the teachers a workshop on research. We also had the CT Library come later in the fall to teach us all how to maneuver the many resources our state has for our students. We started much earlier on the theme, Conflict and Compromise, gave much improved direct instruction on research, reading for information, and writing, and conferenced early with students to make sure their topic fit the theme. This time we had 131 students compete at the school competition, 30 went on to Regionals, four projects went on to the State competition, and it was the best experience! We had one group win the award for Outstanding Entry for Use of Materials and/or Collections Held in a Connecticut Archives, Museum, or Historical Society tied to a Connecticut Historic Site after they went to the Old State House to learn more about the Hartford Convention. One student took 3rd place for their Individual Website on the economic effects of the Berlin Wall. Our school celebrates Veterans Day by having veterans come to our school to talk about their experiences. My student ended up working with a Veteran, who was stationed there from the beginning!
Wait for it... then my other student won 1st place for her project about Typhoid Mary. She dug deep into the issues revolving around the issue of immigration, prejudice against the Irish and women, as well as our fear of contagious diseases-- who is more important-- the individual or the greater society? She dug in after the State competition using the advice the judges gave her. A month ago, we went to Nationals at the University of Maryland from June 10-14th.
Read about Tina's experience at Nationals in Part 2 coming next week.
Tina Bernard is the Social Studies Instructional Facilitator and Gifted and Talented Specialist for grades 4-8 at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in East Haddam, Connecticut. Bernard was the 2014 Teacher of the Year in East Haddam and the 2017 CASL Pellerin CT Classroom Teacher Award recipient.