Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to serve as judge at the National History Day in Pennsylvania competition at Millersville University. The National History Day Program started in 1974, and is an excellent educational opportunity for students in grades 6-12 to learn about the research, analysis, and presentation of history. Students compete at regional, state, and national levels. The National History Day in Pennsylvania program is coordinated by Jeff Hawks, the Education Director for the Army Heritage Center Foundation in Carlisle. There are two divisions – junior and senior – and the categories include: individual paper, individual and group documentary, individual and group exhibit, individual and group performance, and website (individual and group judged together). Utilization of primary sources is emphasized in all categories.
This year’s theme was Leadership and Legacy. I chose the category of papers and was assigned to the senior level (grades 9-12). This was only my second experience judging and I chose papers this time because judges are sent the entries about two weeks in advance and given the opportunity to review them in depth and write comments prior to the History Day event. Previously I had judged in the documentary and performance categories and found it a bit disconcerting that evaluations had to be made on the spot – such serious pressure. As a judge, I felt the keen responsibility to be thorough and accurate for these students who had worked so hard on their projects. While it required a substantial amount of my time, I felt more comfortable undertaking the paper evaluations and was satisfied that I gave them the attention they deserved.
On the first day of the event, armed with our partially completed evaluation sheets, my judging team (of three) set up in our assigned room to interview each student whose paper we evaluated. Each of us had the opportunity to ask a few questions or make a few comments. While there were clearly some nerves at work, the students were very poised and prepared and clearly had a good grasp on their subject matter. I was very impressed with all eleven students whose papers we evaluated.
Following the interviews our judging team went back to headquarters to deliberate and come to a consensus on the top three we would send forward to finals. We all had the same two in our top choices so we just needed to decide on the third one. At the next day’s finals our top three and the top three of the other paper judging team were evaluated by a new team of judges and the top three overall moved on to Nationals.
After my duties were complete, I had the opportunity to briefly view some of the exhibits that were on display in the gym before they closed for the day. They reminded me of science fair projects in that they were generally tri-fold panels with text blocks and graphics and a few artifacts or artwork to enhance the display. There were some very interesting topics. I was gratified to discover that a couple students who presented exhibits on famous Pennsylvanians included a photo of that individual’s PHMC Historical Marker!
I found History Day to be a very worthwhile event for participants and an enjoyable and rewarding experience for me and my fellow judges.