MTSU's "History Day" Competition for Middle and High School Students

Mar 01, 2024 at 01:27 pm by WGNS

Central Magnet School students Mary Cotey and Madden Eller of Murfreesboro, Tenn., show off their exhibit on Marie Curie at the Middle Tennessee Regional History Day Competition held Friday, Feb. 23, at Middle Tennessee State University. Nearly 200 students sponsored by 20 teachers competed in five categories: papers, documentaries, websites, exhibits and performances. Winners qualified to advance to the state competition held April 20 in Nashville, and potentially National History Day held in June in Maryland. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

(MURFREESBORO)  Middle Tennessee State University helped mark a milestone when middle and high school students and their educators came to campus recently for the Middle Tennessee Regional History Day Competition in the Student Union Building.

Since 2003, the university has hosted the annual Middle Tennessee region contest as part of National History Day, which is celebrating 50 years of the contest that welcomes students from across the country who have qualified in regional and state levels.


“We were very excited and proud to see the creativity and excitement of all of the middle and high school students who competed,” said Kira Duke with MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation, which spearheaded the event in partnership with the Tennessee Historical Society. “History Day is truly a wonderful program that allows students to shine in so many ways.”

Nearly 200 students sponsored by 20 teachers in junior and senior divisions presented in five categories for Feb. 23 competition: papers, documentaries, websites, exhibits and performances.

Civil rights drew the attention of Central Magnet School AP history students Ariana Tama, Katema Sarpong-Asiedu and Regan Turnbow, who won third place for their documentary, “Bloody Sunday.” The short film chronicled the brutal attack on 600 civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 when law enforcement descended on the group with billy clubs and tear gas. The event led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

“As we continued research, it became a lot more than just learning about civil rights,” Tama said. “The project has been impactful on our lives. We are the next generation, so knowing about these moments in history is important.”

Students covered a wide variety of topics relating to this year’s National History Day theme, “Turning Points in History,” marking the 50th anniversary of the nationwide competition.

“National History Day is a yearlong project based on a learning framework and an opportunity for students to show all the skills they gain in the history classroom,” said MTSU alumna Nikki Ward, state coordinator for Tennessee History Day.

Judges were comprised of a large number of MTSU Department of History staff, graduate students and numerous community partners and alum of the Center for Historic Preservation. MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts generously supported the event.

“It’s great to see all these young future historians who are excited about history,” said Rhyder Cowart, assistant coordinator for Tennessee History Day and a graduate student in public history at MTSU.

The top two winners in each category advance to the Tennessee state competition, which takes place April 20 in Nashville. The national competition is June 9-13 in College Park, Maryland, at the University of Maryland.

“I saw some engaging and thoughtful research and look forward to seeing what projects head to the state contest in April,” Ward said. “Congratulations to all the students that participated and their educators.”

Teri Beck, who has taught gifted students in Rutherford County Schools for over 20 years, said History Day is a good training ground.

“It helps students learn all those synthesizing types of activities,” said Beck, who teaches at Smyrna and Rocky Fork middle schools. “When they have to get many different sources, do that research, figure out what’s important, they have to figure out what message they are trying to get across. It’s really upper-level thinking.”

Beck said the experiences they go through help lay the groundwork for higher education.

“(How they prepare for History Day) covers a lot of standards, not only in social studies, but in ELA (English language arts),” Beck said. “No matter what they end up studying in college — usually they’ll end up doing group work, projects, meet deadlines, look at specific requirements and even having to speak on impromptu things.”

It’s a lot of work, admitted Beck’s seventh-grade Smyrna Middle students Sebastian Mendoza and David Rodriguez, both of Smyrna, Tennessee, who produced a documentary about the effects 9/11 had on airport security, winning them second place in the competition.

“But it helped me learn a lot about 9/11,” Rodriguez said.

For the third year in a row, Agathos Classical School junior Sara Grippo of Columbia, Tennessee, took home a first-place award. Her performance, “A Crossroad to Freedom: Jermain Loguen’s Rise to King of the Underground Railroad,” chronicled the story of a formerly enslaved pastor who was directly responsible for rescuing over 1,500 enslaved.

To tell the story of Loguen, Grippo transformed into four different characters, with three costume changes, in her solo presentation.

“With this project, I wanted to teach people in my community … about the people who were enslaved in my community,” Grippo explained. “Local history, as you walk down the street, it becomes so tangible.”

Grippo’s project also won Best Project Related to Tennessee History, sponsored by Tennessee State Historian Carroll Van West.

Other special awards include:

  • Best Project Exploring a Turning Point in Modern U.S. Political or Public Policy History, sponsored by the Albert Gore Sr. Research Center at MTSU: “Silent Spring: How Rachel Carson Galvanized the Modern Environmental Movement,” by Central Magnet School studentEmily Taylorof Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
  • Best Project Related to Women’s History, sponsored by the MTSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women: “The Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning’s Fossil Discoveries Became a Turning Point that Gave Birth to the Field of Paleontology,” byMichelle Brennerof Spring Hill, Tennessee.
  • Best Project Related to American Foreign Policy, sponsored by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations: “Enduring Alliance: How the Creation of NATO Was a Turning Point in the Cold War,” byJacob Day, Kyle Nielsenand Natalia Conzalez of Spring Hill, Tennessee.
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