Photo: Point Scholar Maddie Pavek as a History Day participant in 2016
Throughout middle and high school, I was an enthusiastic participant of the National History Day program in Minnesota. For those who may not be familiar with the program, History Day is a project-based learning program (à la Science Fair) where students get to choose a historical topic to investigate. After conducting extensive research, students are tasked with creating a final project that ties their topic to an annual theme. Project categories include exhibit boards, websites, performances, documentaries, and papers. I was a documentary kid, and researched topics ranging from Women’s Suffrage to the Americans with Disabilities Act to the early gay rights movement. History Day had a huge impact on me as a student and as a person, and I’ve been fortunate enough to continue being involved in the program as a mentor.
History Day mentors are usually college students from around the state. They spend 100 hours over the course of the school year working with classes at an assigned middle or high school, helping students navigate college libraries, and lending a hand at competitions. During my first two years of college, I was only able to work with students remotely and during my winter break. Now, after transferring to the University of Minnesota this past fall, I’ve been able to be more involved with the program.
Point Scholar Maddie Pavek as a History Day judge in 2018
Over the past five months I’ve had the pleasure of working with students in an alternative high school program just outside of the Twin Cities. My students are funny, kind, and incredibly creative. Being able to see them and their projects progress, getting to hear the way they think about the world, and seeing their good days and their bad has been incredibly rewarding. Ultimately, students don’t often have the chance to work with an adult one-on-one during the school day. Teachers do their very best, but for students feeling frustrated or lost, not having that time can cause them to slip through the cracks. I am so incredibly proud of my students and all that they have accomplished, but going into formal competition I know that it will be hard for them to compete with students from wealthy families, whose parents may have college degrees, and who don’t have to work jobs outside of school to help support their families. It can be frustrating to operate in a system where so many oppressive structures intersect. But I know that programs like History Day are helping to give students new opportunities, even if they may be small. History Day is designed to help prepare students for higher learning and to broaden their understanding of inquiry.
I’ve always been interested in education, and have been involved in educational programs in one way or another for years. But there’s something special about History Day. There aren’t too many opportunities as a K-12 student to choose what you study. By offering students that choice, History Day puts students in control of their learning. It’s exciting to learn about something you care about and it’s exciting to have your hard work validated. Being a mentor has been the best part my year and has helped to reignite my passion for education.
This post was written by Point Scholar Maddie Pavek.
Maddie is studying Political Science and Gender Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is passionate about continuing her work with sexuality education, victim advocacy, and the LGBTQ+ community. Read more about Maddie here.