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West Valley City Journal

Students Take Their History Knowledge to DC

Aug 04, 2016 04:30PM ● By Travis Barton

The three students from Kennedy Junior High who qualified for the National History Day Competition got to meet Senator Orrin Hatch in Washington DC. –Stasha Wheeler

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City, Utah - History is always being made. For five students in West Valley, they made history about history.

The University of Maryland played host from June 12 to 16 to the National History Day competition where students from around the country compete in the academic competition right outside of Washington DC. From Salt Lake County, 10 students went as national delegates with five of them from West Valley City.

“We didn’t have any expectations going in so it ended up being a really cool opportunity for [the students],” Stasha Wheeler, social studies teacher at Kennedy Junior High, said.  

Gabby Proctor, Regan Turner and Angel Liu went from Kennedy Junior High for their website on Jackie Robinson while Isis Tupola and Camille Wilkins attended from Hunter High School for their exhibit called “Exploring the Escape Routes.”

The national contest featured student history research from every state in the union. Students qualified for the competition by winning their categories at the Utah History Day state contest in April before demonstrating their projects in College Park.

But it all started as a classroom assignment for the Kennedy Junior High students when Wheeler introduced it to them on the first day of school.

Wheeler, accompanied the kids and their families on the trip to, said they collaborated with the History and English departments in choosing which projects entered into the regional competition. She said they had 10 kids go to the regional competition with five advancing to the state level where three of them finished second in the group website category.  

The format for every level of the competition is the same where the kids do the project and have a 10-minute interview with a few judges in regards to their topic.

Wheeler, the students’ US History teacher, said the process is great because after every competition, the kids are allowed to revise their project.

“It’s a really good learning process for the kids of how to continually improve in something,” Wheeler said.

With Jackie Robinson as their topic and the competition’s theme “Exploration, Encounter and Exchange,” the students decided to focus on what Robinson had to encounter as the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball.

“[The students] talked about not just the legacy he left other athletes that wanted to play professional sports but for the black community in general that they should have all of the same rights,” Wheeler said.  

The girls, who were all student body officers, utilized the website format to share their project gradually improving on the design of the website to better enhance their information.

“History Day engages kids in hands-on learning,” Wendy Rex-Atzet, coordinator of Utah History Day, said in a press release. “They do real historical research, analyze historical sources, and draw research-based conclusions about their topic.”

The national competition itself consisted of a ten-minute interview for the students from Kennedy Junior High. Though the students did not win, Wheeler said they were reminded just how exclusive this competition was.

“These kids are in the top one percent in the nation of all those who participated…that’s a huge accomplishment,” Wheeler said.

Attending the National History Day in College Park, Md. also afforded the students and their families the opportunity to visit Washington DC where they saw the American History Smithsonian and met Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

“History Day offers a powerful tool to interest today’s kids in history and develop a sense of civic engagement,” Rex-Atzet said.

This was Wheeler’s first time with students competing at the national level and she said it’s given her great experience for the future.

“It really opened my eyes to what my students are capable of. Now with my students next year, for those of them that are really passionate and want to put forth the time and effort, I can hopefully guide them to the same result,” Wheeler said.

Witnessing the growth of these students over the last year, Wheeler said, surprised and impressed her.

“When I think about where they started to where they ended up, it was a huge growth process for them to where they would always keep after it,” Wheeler said. “I was so happy to see them be successful.”

USANA, who shares a business partnership with Kennedy Junior High, paid for the girls travel expenses so they could even attend the competition.

“It would not have been possible had USANA not said, ‘yes we would love to support these kids,’” Wheeler said. “As a community we really appreciate USANA supporting the kids in that regard.”