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December 16, 2009 > History Day: A Force for Change

History Day: A Force for Change

By Alyson Whitaker

As budget cuts are made to education and teachers feel the pressure to raise standardized testing scores, history is one of the subjects on the chopping block. History is not tested in the "No Child Left Behind" regimen, and many schools are greatly reducing hours spent on the subject, if not eliminating it completely.

History is a great way to reinforce skills, which apply to all subjects of education. Reading and writing abilities are honed; research methods are developed. History nurtures students in new ways of thinking about the world. Important life questions can be answered through a study of historical events and individuals. Having a broader perspective of social sciences and a deeper understanding of the world and the way it works helps us to live within the constraints of government and society.

National History Day makes history come alive for the youth of America by engaging them in the discovery of the historic, cultural, and social experiences of the past. Through hands-on presentations and experiences, kids have an opportunity to explore history and engage in the study of meaningful topics of their own choosing. As their limits are stretched, critical thinking, research, writing, and oral presentation skills are developed.

Similar to a science fair, History Day is an event held on a local, regional, state, and finally, national level. Students may develop a project in one of five categories: Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance, or a Web Site. There is a junior and senior age bracket, and group and individual entries within each category. The theme for National History Day 2010 is "Innovation in History: Impact and Change".

Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) is making a push to increase the participation within the county's school districts. Most districts have been largely unrepresented in recent years, with only a few students from the more affluent public and private schools participating.

Avi Black is the History/Social Science Coordinator for ACOE. When he walked into his office a few years back, a small sign reading "History Day Competition Today" was posted on the office door. That was the first he had heard of the annual competition. Only five schools had entered, but the caliber of projects and array of topics covered were amazing. Ann Everton, a teacher from Hart Middle School in Pleasanton, had worked tirelessly to bring the event to fruition.

From that first event, Avi Black saw the value of promoting History Day on a broader level. He is committed to ensuring that these opportunities are open to all students in all districts, regardless of economic status or test scores. But he can't do it alone. The support and participation of teachers and volunteer mentors is essential to ensuring success-not just of the event, but also for the growth and experience of each individual student. As teachers have access to tools and support, they will be better equipped and motivated to inspire their students to participate. As students participate, they will experience increased self-confidence, gain skills and abilities, and be better prepared for their future. Volunteers are necessary every step of the way-helping a student identify a topic, guiding the research process, assisting in the evaluation and critique of a preliminary topic, and judging the event itself. This is a great opportunity for retired educators and history buffs to make a difference.

The Alameda County History Day competition is scheduled for March 20, 2010 at the Oakland School for the Arts in downtown Oakland. Avi Black is working with local historical societies and dignitaries to encourage involvement, making it a community event.

Student participation is voluntary and can bring as much enjoyment to the volunteers as it does to the students. While a great deal of time and effort goes into preparing a presentation, there is also the opportunity to transform the lives of the students who take part. As students better understand the role of history in modern day society, there is an increased awareness of the importance of the events and actions taking place in our government and society today. This increased awareness has the potential to affect change in our world, making it a better place for all.

For more information or to volunteer with History Day, contact Avi Black at (510) 670-4239 or ablack@acoe.org. The national website for entry information is www.nationalhistoryday.org.

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