Regional Contest season has begun! Many students' focus is on the contest and winning a prize. The reality is that only a small percentage of students are going to win a prize and advance to the state contest; of the 1400 + Regional Contest participants, approximately 400 will be at the State Contest.
So, how do you manage expectations for your students and deal with the disappointment of students who have not won?
Encourage your students to celebrate their achievement.
For some students, conducting their first ever oral interview or talking to someone about their project is an achievement. Visiting a museum or historic site associated with their project is also something to celebrate. Creating a History Day project is not easy and in the days before a contest we often have students who withdraw. The sheer fact of completing a project should be celebrated.
National History Day's tagline is "It's Not Just a Day, It's an Experience." Encourage your students to enjoy the contest experience. Have them view other projects and meet fellow participants. Participate in the activities offered. For instance, at the Norwich Contest, the Slater Museum offers a wide range of activities, including tours and a scavenger hunt for students. At UConn, participants can enjoy music from the Eric Rice Band or attend an event hosted by the UConn Riding team.
Encourage your students to learn from their experience.
I know of students who save their evaluation sheets from year to year, reviewing them in order to improve their work. For students who have participated multiple years, encourage them to reflect on their growth and improvement. Some students use disappointment to spur them on the following year. One year, a young man walked across the stage at the State Contest and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, because he placed third and did not qualify for the National Contest. That experience steered his determination to improve and the following year he qualified for the National Contest.
Many schools host a History Day event to showcase student work. It's a wonderful way to highlight every student's achievement. Consider reaching out to a local library or museum to see if they might want to display projects. One year, a couple of students focused their projects on Caroline Ferriday; a woman who helped bring recognition to the women of Ravensbruck. That summer, the students' projects were on display in the Visitors Center at the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem.
We, as adults know that just by participation students are winners. Participants learn how to conduct research, think critically about sources, analyze results, and transform research into projects. Students become writers, filmmakers, we designers, playwrights and artists. Encourage students to view themselves—whether they walk away with a medal—as a winner, because truly they are.
- Rebecca Taber-Conover, Connecticut History Day State Coordinator