LaGrange College to host National History Day contest

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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Developing critically thinking and engaged citizens is a key goal of National History Day Georgia, a program that teaches integral lessons middle and high school students take with them long after graduation.

“In my career, National History Day gave me the ability to make historical connections in order to explain linguistic differences and similarities between Spanish and English,” said Katarina de Castro ’21, LaGrange College alum and former NHD competitor, who is taking what she learned from the contest and applying it to her job as a Spanish teacher at Troup County High School.

Students from Troup County as well as Muscogee, Carroll, Coweta and Fayette, will compete in the National History Day West Georgia regional competition on Friday, March 10, at LaGrange College. This year’s event will have 220 students from 20 schools in the state.

Since 2014, the college has served as the state co-sponsor of National History Day with Georgia Humanities.

“NHD gives middle and high school students the opportunity to learn a topic in depth,” said LaGrange College Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Brian Peterson, who is a member of the Georgia Humanities Board of Directors. “The experience of presenting their work to others outside their school, in the presence of peers from other schools, while on a college campus, adds multiple layers to what they are doing.

“This event will help them believe that they can do this kind of research and prepare them for what lies ahead in college and beyond.”

This year will be the first regional back in-person since before the COVID pandemic.

“I am thrilled to see all the students,” said LaGrange College History Professor and National History Day Co-Affiliate Coordinator Dr. Kevin Shirley. “Their excitement and energy are contagious.”

Before entering the regional, students go through a selection process at their middle or high school.

“At some schools, a group of teachers will review the work and select entries to advance to regional, while in other schools, a contest is held with community judges,” Dr. Shirley said.

Regional competitors, working either individually or in a group, will present their project through one of five media:  Historical Paper, Exhibit, Performance, Documentary or Website. This year’s theme is “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas.” 

Stan Shively, a teacher at Richards Middle School in Columbus, Georgia, said the competition is beneficial for his students.

“National History Day gives my students confidence in their ability to complete a major project,” he said. “It also encourages them to understand the importance of documented and reliable sources other than what they see on social media. NHD inspires them to continue in their pursuit of history and its significance.”

Judges from each category will advance the top three entries to the state contest on April 22 at LaGrange College.

At past National History Day regional contests, de Castro said she has had the privilege of serving as a judge and mentor.

“I was thankful to have had the experience of competing before judging because it allowed me a much more compassionate viewpoint and allowed me to give reasonable advice to students based on what I knew was possible to improve in a project,” she said. “Mentoring student presenters was equally as rewarding for me after having the perspective of a judge. I was able to reign in projects that had too broad of a topic or offer ways to expand too narrow of a topic.”

In the years since her first competition at NHD, de Castro said her passion for history has only strengthened.

“Currently, I am studying linguistic anthropology because it is fascinating to me,” she said. “National History taught me not only how to research this history but also how to pull meaningful and applicable stories from it. It’s one thing to read history texts and report facts, but it’s a whole other thing to take these facts of our history and humanize them for the present day.”

Dr. Shirley said he has witnessed the transformative power the program has had on the participants.

“I have watched students’ self-confidence and self-esteem increase exponentially during contest season,” he said. “They learn to believe in their abilities and in themselves.”