Margret Atkinson teaches literature to sixth-graders at Copper Mill Elementary School and English to gifted seventh- and eighth-graders at Northwestern Middle School.
Her students have been conducting research on historical topics to prepare for National History Day — a national competition underwritten by the History Channel that has several qualifying rounds.
“We have been working on this, incrementally, since August,” Atkinson said. “They’ve created a product about people in history who demonstrated great leadership and left a poignant legacy, and the amount of ownership the students have is inspiring.”
Each year, the competition requires students to choose a historical topic related to an annual theme — this year it’s “Leadership and Legacy in History” — and conduct primary and secondary research that includes looking through libraries, archives and museums, conducting oral history interviews and visiting historic sites. After students analyze and interpret their sources, they draw conclusions about the significance of their topics and present the work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary or a website.
“The intentional selection of the theme provides an opportunity for students to push past antiquated views of history as mere facts and dates, and allows students to really dig deep into historical content to develop perspective and understanding,” Atkinson said.
Students can participate individually or as a group in the junior division for sixth- through eighth-graders or in the senior division for high schoolers.
Atkinson’s classes at NMS and most of her students at Copper Mill entered on March 7 the regional round of the History Day competition representing the Baton Rouge district at the West Baton Rouge Parish Museum in Port Allen.
Several of the students’ entries placed first through fourth, earning them spots in the state competition slated for April 11 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Thirteen projects involving 25 students are advancing to the state competition.
Northwestern Middle students advancing are:
Alexandra Barfield, first place, individual exhibit board
Colt Crain, Olivia Smith and Paige Veal, first place, group exhibit board
John Borg, Hayden Duplantier and Mikey Varnado, first place, group performance
David Robins, first place, individual website
Peyton Baronne, Caynan Byrd, Joshua Lavender and Samuel McCauley, first place, group website
Brailyn King, second place, individual exhibit board
Raegan Douglas and Destiny Louis, second place, group exhibit board
Celeste Cavell and Hannah Kelley, third place, group documentary
Caleb Johnson, third place, individual website
Elyse Duplantier, Carsyn Martel, Hannah Robertson and Lynndon Rushing, third place, group website
Ja’Cory Hubbard, fourth place, individual documentary.
Copper Mill students advancing are:
Ian Venable, first place, individual paper
Kennedy Jackson, second place, individual website.
Atkinson said that in addition to the product, students were required to create an annotated bibliography and process paper.
Winners from the state contest will advance to the national competition this summer, where winners from throughout the United States and international countries will compete, Atkinson said.
Cash prizes are awarded to some of the entries that place.
In 2014, Zachary students Madison Russel and Jessica Staggs won first place in the regional round, first in state and competed well at the national level for their group exhibit board about the Upstanders during the Holocaust, Atkinson said.
In addition to the History Day competition, sixth-graders Brianne Bankston, Anna Dupre, Kylie Phillips and Parker Robertson will compete in a classroom-level science fair April 1.
Atkinson has arranged for three science professionals from Pennington Biomedical Research Center to judge the projects, which also include bibliographies and process papers.
Atkinson said she’s coordinating to have an engineer and doctor judge the projects as well.
For information about the National History Day competition, visit www.nationalhistoryday.org.