When I hit middle school, I was encouraged to compete in our local National History Day competition. I was hooked from that very first event: I loved the research, the preparation, the work to analyze historical events and to share their importance, and, yes, the competition.
That’s why I was so very excited when I found out that the National History Day organization has events in North Carolina, and that our district competition isn’t too far away. I was determined that my kids would compete when they came of age, as well.
Are you familiar with National History Day? It’s sort of like a science fair, in that you create projects/entries that are judged for competition, only about history, instead. Each year there’s an annual theme, and students choose a topic that fits that theme and create projects/entries in the exhibit, documentary, historical paper, performance, or website categories. Students must explain the significance of their topic in history and in relation to the theme, as well as showcase their work through process papers and annotated bibliographies. It’s a big deal. It’s fabulous.
For My Big Helper, that was this year. She’s now in middle school (where has the time gone??) and so last October she and another brave young man chose topics and began to research.
As this was their first year, and as this level of competition and historical research was new to them both, we did our best to keep it fun. We traveled to the Davis Library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for a lesson from a librarian about how to use their Library of Congress cataloguing system. She also taught them how to use their many online databases, and the kids searched for materials relevant to their topics.
We had pizza parties and got together to check progress and discuss competition rules.
Finally, though, the big day arrived, and it was time to head off to Greensboro for the district competition. Held at the Education Building on the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, the competitors took over that part of campus and were college kids for the day.
Competition days are a big deal. You must check in, have your paperwork in order, and get set up. After that, when it’s your scheduled turn, a team of judges will interview you about your work and conclusions. For anyone, that time of ‘interview’ is stressful, but for kids new to that type of experience, it can be rough, despite the judges’ kindness.
One of the highlights for us was always having lunch in the cafeteria. The UNCG café where we ate was nothing like any college cafeteria I’ve ever seen before, but with Chick-Fil-A and other fun restaurants on site, the kids seemed to enjoy their faux-college kid status.
Late in the afternoon, the award ceremony arrives. Filling up an auditorium, a professor greets everyone, and the winners in each category are finally announced. We were all really nervous by this time. We thought our kids had created solid entries and had a good chance of placing, but, really, who can tell?
It’s not just about winning, either – because winning entries advance to the state competition, and winners there, to the national one. Competition increases at each level, and everyone wants to advance, but, of course, not everyone can, so … one hopes hard and works harder.
Our friend’s category was announced first, and … he placed second! We were so very excited, and My Big Helper was hoping even harder for own name to be called at that point.
Yet, her category wasn’t. They seemed to be calling them in no particular order – junior individual website, senior group performance, junior group project, etc. – and we were starting to think hers would never be announced, when they finally called ‘junior individual exhibit.’
I’m not sure why it works this way, but three entrants in each category advance to the NC State History Day competition – except for in exhibits; then five advance. My Big Helper didn’t place fifth.
She didn’t place fourth. Or third.
You know how it goes – each time they prepare to call a new name, you think that now, they’ll call her name now, and she’s going to win, and then it’s someone else. Your heart falls into your shoes, and you despair that she’s not going to be called, that she didn’t win. And while it’s not the winning or losing that you care about, she’s oh-so-excited, and you so want her to continue being that excited at that point …..
And then, at the very last moment, they called her name! She placed FIRST in her category!
It was wonderful to see her so excited. To know that she’s worked hard and is getting a tangible reward from someone else. That she’s learning to finish what she starts, and a whole host of other lessons.
Our two competitors are super excited, and well they should be: they’ve done fantastic work. It’s not over, though, for now they have the opportunity to take the criticism from the district-level judges and make improvements to their entries before the state competition in a few weeks.
For now, though … yay! They won!
Do your kids enter competitions? Share in the comments below – and come back soon to see why I encourage my kids to compete in these types of events.