Making history

Hillary Smith was captivated.

About a year ago, the Sequim Middle School seventh-grader was listening to National Public Radio and caught an interview with Jill Norgren, author of “Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President.” As Norgren spoke of Lockwood, Smith found herself thoroughly intrigued by the pioneer who ran for president in 1884 and 1888, more than three decades before women could vote for her.

“I had never heard of a woman that ran for president before women could vote,” Smith said.

During her summer break, Smith began reading Web sites and books on Lockwood. When fall came and Sequim Middle School students began working on their History Day projects, Smith dove headfirst into Lockwood’s world.

She wasn’t alone — each year around November, Sequim Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders begin extensive research projects revolving around a theme, such as 2008’s Conflict and Compromise, that is announced by the National History Day board.

According to SMS history teacher Todd Beuke, who is an advisor for the afterschool History Day Club, each student in the two grades is required to do some sort of project: a paper, a documentary, a Web site, a poster board or a performance.

“The real reason I do it is all the trappings that go with a research essay,” Beuke said. “While doing the project, the kids are doing research, finding primary and secondary sources, making bibliographies — but they don’t realize they’re doing a research essay.”

Some choose to enter their works in the regional competition, which was held in Bremerton this past March. The students who placed well there were invited to compete in the statewide competition, held during the last weekend in April at the University of Washington.

According to Beuke, Sequim students had a strong showing at the event and six did well enough to receive invitations to the national competition in Washington, D.C., next month: three as competitors and three as alternates.

Beuke said many of the students get hooked on their projects in middle school and continue to do them throughout their high school years, even though Sequim High School doesn’t have an organized History Day program.

Olivia Boots and Rachel Haugland, who won second place in state, as well as the Preservation of Cultural Resources Award, for their documentary on Makah whaling, said they are two such examples.

“Once you win or have the experience, you’re hooked, it becomes addicting,” Boots said. “With a class, you learn and memorize and then often toss it away. With History Day projects, (the topic) becomes who you are. That’s what makes us keep coming back.”

Boots and Haugland said they chose their topic because they wanted to keep it local so they had a better chance of getting personal interviews. Those sit-down talks led to what Boots called “the best interview I’ve ever had,” with the oldest living Makah Nation member in Neah Bay.

Lucas Shores-McKinney, who earned third-place in his category with partner Emily Reis for their exhibit on Celilo Falls, as well as the Columbia River Basin Award, agreed with Boots about getting personal.

“I think the most impressive thing about the whole experience was the interviews,” said Shores-McKinney, who is traveling to Washington, D.C., as an alternate.

While Sequim had 30 students traveling to state as competitors, SHS senior Whitney Macaulay was the only one traveling to Seattle as a judge. Upon learning that Washington State History Day coordinator Lauren Danner, who was Macaulay’s mentor during past competitions, was battling breast cancer, Macaulay and his mother cut out 800 pink ribbons to hand out during the awards ceremony.

“Lauren Danner looked out into the audience and everyone was wearing pink ribbons,” Beuke said. “It was a touching moment.”

Beuke, who plans on accompanying the group to the national competition, said the Sequim contingent is a little famous around History Day circles.

“We’ve had kids go to nationals every year since 2002,” he said. “When we go to Washington, D.C., people recognize Sequim as a tough school.”

It’s easy to see why: All of the Sequim competitors, including Boots, said their projects become a huge part of their lives.

“It consumes your being,” Boots said. “You eat, breathe, sleep and dream History Day.”

They’re heading to D.C.:

In order to visit Washington, D.C., as competitors, students had to place first or second in their respective categories at the state level. Third-place winners also are invited, but as alternates.

From Sequim High School:

• Olivia Boots and Rachel Hauglund, second place in Senior Group Documentary and Preservation of Cultural Resources Award for “Makah Whaling: The Enduring Battle for Tribal Sovereignty”

• Emily Reis and Lucas Shores-McKinney, third place in Senior Group Exhibit and the Columbia River Basin Award for “Celilo Falls: 150 Years of Conflict and Compromise”

From Sequim Middle School:

• Hillary Smith, second place in Junior Historical Paper and Women’s History Consortium Award for “Taking on the Courts … and the Men: Belva Lockwood’s Conflicts and Compromises in Law and Politics”

• Lorah Steichen, third place in Junior Individual Performance and Women’s History Award for “The Lowell Mills: Offering Conflict and Compromise.”

Fundraising for nationals

Sequim Middle School and Sequim High School students invite you to attend a dessert and coffee social at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, in the Sequim Middle School cafeteria. Fourteen Sequim students who placed in the top six at the state competition will present their projects and be available for questions. Donations will be accepted to help raise the nearly $5,000 it will cost to send the six students to Washington, D.C.

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