A program that started with 129 schools in the Cleveland area now attracts 600,000 in the United States and beyond. National History Day starts off with district competitions and those winners advance to state tournaments. Then, each year in June, the state victors compete nationally at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. Gilmour’s Lower School students compete in the junior division and have advanced to nationals five times since 2005. That year the entries focused on America’s first spy satellites and their impact on modern warfare and a secret language used by slaves in the Underground Railroad. In 2006, Gilmour exhibits on the Miranda Decision, which defined constitutional rights during interrogation; women’s rights and school desegregation were selected for the national competition. Two years later, Lower School students advanced with documentaries on Cleveland’s civil rights busing controversy and a program to rescue burros in the Grand Canyon. In 2009, a documentary on evolutionist Charles Darwin and an exhibit on aviator Bessie Coleman were showcased at nationals. In 2011, a performance based on women’s voting rights and the Equal Rights Amendment advanced to the national competition.
National History Day invites students to develop a historical topic and to link its significance to society and history. They examine pivotal people, places, and events in world history through their projects. Through National History Day, students acquire historical knowledge and perspective and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them manage and use information now and in the future. “There is always a different side of a historical moment to uncover, a journey worthy to take, as the skills learned along the way will last a lifetime,” says Lower School humanities instructor Carmel Fantelli who coordinates the program at Gilmour. “National History Day teaches students research, writing, product development, technology use and interviewing skills. It is an excellent piece of our curriculum.”
For National History Day 2011, Gilmour sixth graders interviewed auto industry executives and ’60s war protestors. They conducted research using PBS, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Oberlin College, Kent State University and archives at the Library of Congress and the Truman Library, among other sources. In the past, students have mined resources such as the Western Reserve Historical Society, John Carroll University’s broadcast archives, television stations, Georgia’s Peabody Awards archives, Northern Indiana’s Women’s Baseball Collection, and the Ryan White Collection at the Kokomo Library in Indiana. Students have interviewed lawyers and law professors as well as firsthand witnesses in the Cleveland Schools’ desegregation case.
“The cornerstone of the Gilmour experience is the rich and varied resources students use to research their topics,” says Fantelli. “Our students analyze and interpret information from their sources and draw conclusions about their topics’ significance in history.” Back in March, nine Gilmour sixth graders who were recognized in the district tournament had the opportunity to travel to Columbus with their exhibits on the 1960s war protests and a controversial truck tariff as well as a performance entry on women’s rights for Ohio’s National History Day.