History Day at Summit Middle School |
What do Malcolm X and John Muir have in common? They’re subjects of History Day projects on display at Summit, a charter middle school in south Boulder. National History Day participation is built into Summit’s social studies curriculum, so every seventh grader has something to be pretty proud of this week.
I was honored to volunteer as a judge in the historical paper category – kids could also create exhibits, websites, documentaries, and dramatic performances – and was wowed by the originality and depth of research I encountered. Students took this year’s theme, “Rights and Responsibilities,” and ran with it, not shying from complex subjects ranging from China’s one-child policy to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment.
It was fun to talk to students about how their projects grew out of personal interests and experiences. Kyle K. wanted to learn more about the Eighth Amendment after debating the constitutionality of the death penalty in a class last year – he made a documentary. Cayo B., meanwhile, is passionate about soccer and will visit relatives in Brazil for the World Cup next summer. He’d seen news reports about big international sports events getting chaotic and even deadly, and was curious about what to expect in Sao Paolo; his exhibit is titled “The Right to Safety at Sporting Events: Stadiums, From Then to Now.”
I tagged along as sixth grade social studies teacher Cheryle Kapsak toured the exhibits with one of her classes. The younger students appeared dazzled, not quite believing they’d have to produce similar work next year. Mrs. Kapsak assured them that, though History Day is designed to be “a stretch” for Summit’s sevvies, they’re expertly guided through the process by American History teacher Sara Thompson who, over the course of three months, breaks the project into manageable pieces.
Mrs. Thompson was hard to pin down on Monday as she zipped from place to place supporting her students. She did find a moment to share the source of her own inspiration. “I love helping students ‘touch history’ as they use the New York Times Historical Database, the Library of Congress, and other extraordinary resources to uncover the past. Knowing history helps us to know ourselves, and I feel privileged to help students in their journeys of discovery, both past and present.”
Expectations for Summiteers are high on History Day, and every day. Even so it’s commonplace for students to go above and beyond. There’s “no ceiling,” explains Mrs. Kapsak. By combining scholarship, creativity, and excellence in research, History Day motivates kids to work their way up into “the canopy of the critical thinking tree.” They were having a lot of fun up there! You can enjoy their projects on the school website.