2017 National History Day Update
By: Andrew Murphy, Alamo Education Department Intern
Each year, National History Day, a non-profit organization based in College Park, Maryland, sponsors the National History Day Contest. This contest is open to middle- and high-school students with the goal of helping students gain a new perspective on a historical topic or event. As part of this contest, students conduct research based on the annual theme and then use their research to create projects through various mediums like documentaries, websites, and exhibits. The top projects from each local contest are then selected to appear in the national contest in Maryland.
This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.” The Battle of Alamo represents a classic historical example of taking a stand. It was during the 13-day battle that nearly 200 Texans took a stand against tyranny and gave their lives in the defense of their beliefs. This year, as with most years, students from around the state reached out to members of the Alamo’s education department for help with their projects, resulting in an eclectic mix of Alamo-themed NHD projects.
Machaia McClenny, the Alamo’s Education Program Specialist, assisted an eighth grade student in conducting research for a project focused on David Crockett. Sherri Driscoll, Education Program Coordinator at the Alamo, also assisted students from across the state in their efforts to develop historically accurate and meaningful projects. In late 2016, Sherri met with a pair of middle-school students from Texas. Maci Hill, a sixth grader, developed a project on Adina de Zavala and her efforts to preserve the Alamo. Sherri was interviewed by Maci, and later gave Maci and her family a tour of the complex. In a similar fashion, Sherri assisted a student named Salem in her project on Alamo defenders George and Edward Nelson. Sherri was also conducted a Skype interview with a high-school junior named Hannah Garcia to discuss her Alamo-themed project.
While the Alamo maintains a special place in the hearts of Texans everywhere, the appeal of the famed mission and battleground ultimately transcends state lines. Groups of students from Florida also organized tours with Machaia and Sherri to learn more about the Alamo. Machaia assisted a student named Ryan from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida in finding primary sources for his Alamo-themed project. Machaia gave the student a Battlefield Tour and subsequently answered more questions about the Alamo. Soon after, Sherri met with a student named Carsen Prater. Carsen represented a group of students from Florida who were hoping to contribute a project to the Florida History Fair. The Alamo also appeals to students in the Midwest, as Misty Hurley, Education Program Assistant, aided a 7th grade student from St. Paul, Minnesota named Grace Torgeson in her NHD project. Misty was able to provide Grace with a wealth of information on the history of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution as a whole. In total, all three members of the department were able to share their extensive knowledge of the Alamo with a collection of thoughtful and knowledge-seeking students.
The efforts of Machaia, Sherri, and Misty proved fruitful, as many of the students achieved success on the local and state levels. Salem, the student looking for information on the Nelson brothers, won her school’s contest and was selected to appear in the her county’s NHD competition. The group of Florida students, led by Carsen and assisted by Sherri, appeared with their project at Florida’s state NHD contest. Lastly, thanks to Misty’s help, Grace won her local contest in Minnesota and was able to advance to the regional competition. In all of these cases, the students attributed their high level of success to the help provided by the members of the Alamo’s education department.
The Alamo staff were more than happy to assist these groups of students in their endeavors, and took pride in knowing that their contributions helped to create meaningful projects. The members of the Alamo’s education team look to continue collaborating with students to develop meaningful NHD projects in future years. Ultimately, this collaboration marks not only the historical significance of the Alamo as an American landmark, but also its status as an important teaching tool for students everywhere.