History Day Competition showcases youth research

Around 240 children from sixth to 12th grade from schools in North-East Topeka visited Washburn Feb. 23 for the Regional History Day Competition. They showcased their talent, interest and enjoyment in history as they participated in competitions spread throughout the Memorial Union, Henderson and Mabee Library. The competition was divided into five segments, including exhibitions, performances, documentaries, website showcase and paper presentation.

This is the 40th year Washburn has hosted the regionals, and the university has been hosting it from the beginning.

“It’s amazing,” said Rachel Goossen, professor of History at Washburn. “Some of these children are only 11, and their projects are so well-thought-out. I’m always really impressed by them. Students not only learn about history, but also the ways to present topics to people.”

This year’s theme was Triumph and Tragedy, and the students had the full liberty of interpreting it however they wanted. This led to some interesting projects. The students had been preparing for over a year and it showed in their presentations.

Some of the exhibitions were intricate pieces of art. Aubree Russell, seventh-grader from Royal Valley, put her project titled, “Behind Every Mask, There is a Story,” on a rotating base. Three concave panes were folded into a triangle, and each pane described main ideas. She even included props like masks, an arcane camera, an army helmet and more. Her project was about Anna Coleman Ladd, who made masks for disfigured soldiers in World War I.  

Allison Reed, seventh-grader from Washburn Rural, presented “One Blood,” a story of how Charles Drew, an African-American physician who developed ways to process and store plasma, faced segregation challenges while trying to apply this knowledge. The segregationists wanted to separate “white” plasma from “black” plasma and only make available each sort to its respective demographic. Reed had blood packs, stickers to hand out and pamphlets encouraging blood donation at the table.

The Junior exhibitions were in Washburn A, and the sixth-to-eighth graders were nervous and excited to present their work, and equally nervous were their parents. Some students had participated previously while others were presenting for the first time. On the upper level of the Memorial Union, students in costumes were ready to perform their historical research.

Hannah Hiszcynskyj, junior in high school, gave two impassioned monologues describing the experiences of the women who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. She did a before and after performance, which showed the dismal conditions of the worker used to oppress them before the fire and the heartbroken mothers of those workers after the incident.

Fifty judges were present to judge all the events and the students were being judged on how they interpreted the theme, where they found their primary and secondary sources and how they used them and how they interpreted their sources.

“It’s really very competitive,” Goossen said. “By the end of this, because these kids have worked so hard on this become experts on the topic and we get to learn from them.”

The three winners from each segment in the regionals will participate next in the state competition, set for April 27 at Washburn University. From there, the Nationals will be in June. Goossen believes this is all a learning experience which benefits all.