Over a hundred students participated in the National History Day (NHD) competition held at Arsenal Technical High School on March 17. The same number competed on March 19 at Gambold Preparatory Magnet High School.
The competition had students conduct an original historical research project and then share their research and show what they learned through papers, displays and presentations to judges.

According to Eric Heagy, District Social Studies Instructional Coach, it has been a long time since these competitions took place in Indianapolis Public Schools, but the district and the Indiana Historical Society are working together to change that. “This program teaches students about using various resources and how to present information in creative and logical ways,” he said.

The NHD competition has a theme each year. This year the theme was Leadership and Legacy in History. Each project had to address that theme as part of the overall score students receive. However, according to Matt Durrett, Indiana Historical Society Coordinator for Educational Outreach and National History Day in Indiana, the theme is purposefully broad.

“We want students to take what they are interested in and go into depth on that. We want them to turn their interests into a project,” Durrett said. “We want them to tell the story of Leadership and Legacy through their projects.”

The Arsenal Tech students involved in the competition displayed a wide variety of projects on everything from the legacy of civil rights icon Rosa Parks and basketball legend Bill Russell to the influence of Elvis or the HeLa cells named after Henrietta Lacks and used extensively in medical research.

Junior Donovan E. did his project on the mummified remains of a dinosaur dubbed “Leonardo” that gave scientists the best look at dinosaurs they’d ever had.

When asked why he chose the topic, Donovan E. said, “I wanted to do something unique and challenging.” He even reached out by email to Joe Iacuzzo, who led the Leonardo team, and used a quote from Iacuzzo in his NHD project.

Jasmine B., Atanai N. and Jesus T. worked together on a project about Cesar Chavez. Jasmine B. said the project really “helped me learn how to do research.”

Troy Hammon, Math & Science Academy Honors U.S. History Teacher at Arsenal Tech, said that’s something his students need to learn. “Too many see Google as THE answer to any question. They struggle when they are asked to ‘prove it’ or ‘defend it.’ NHD has forced them to prove it!” he said.

However, most of all, Durrett said, “We want students to enjoy this experience.” He instructed judges to

  • Let the students be the experts and discuss their research.
  • Encourage them with positive feedback.
  • Ensure all walk away with constructive ideas for improving their research process and their presentations the next time, whether their project moves on in the competition or not.

Winners selected at Arsenal Tech and at Gambold Prep will have a chance to compete at the state level April 25 at Marian University.

IPS 4th and 5th graders at Meredith Nicholson School 96 and Joyce Kilmer School 69 will get a chance to compete in the NDH youth division competition in April at their schools. Durrett and Heagy both hope next year’s competition will feature even more involvement by IPS schools and students, and they dream of a district-wide contest showcasing the best projects from each school.

We’re happy to see a program like this taking root in the district, and we’re proud of the enthusiasm and intelligence shown by this first group of IPS students digging deeper into history!