New reality

County students competing in NHD competition virtually


Student Juniper Helling is shown with her posterboard about Elizabeth Blackwell. Now that the National History Day contest is being changed to a virtual format, much of the competition will be different, including no posterboards. Submitted photos

Student Juniper Helling is shown with her posterboard about Elizabeth Blackwell. Now that the National History Day contest is being changed to a virtual format, much of the competition will be different, including no posterboards. Submitted photos

Thirteen students from El Portal Elementary School and five students from Mariposa County High School had planned to participate in the regional National History Day (NHD) competition on March 14 in Merced.

NHD is an educational organization that encourages students from all over the nation to develop and present history based research projects. These projects can be in the form of an exhibit, poster, website, paper, documentary or performance. NHD encourages students to take charge of their learning and explore the past through annual themes.

This year’s theme is “breaking barriers.” Examples of topics and people chosen by students were the Titanic, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.

The staff at the Mariposa County Unified School District were made aware of the competition last fall when MCHS AP History teacher Stephanie Bobman presented the program during a teacher professional development day. Fifth and sixth grade teacher Marci Messick from El Portal Elementary was so impressed by Bobman’s enthusiasm, she immediately decided to include her class.

Student Juniper Helling hard at work.

Student Juniper Helling hard at work.

Fortunately, the teachers and students were supported by administrators and supporting staff. In fact, the MCUSD educational services department helped in making it possible for county schools to participate because they paid the participation fee, and were prepared to support transportation fees as well.

Like many other events that were supposed to occur this month, the in-person regional competition was cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns. The regional competition includes students from Mariposa, Merced and Madera counties. However, instead of cancelling the event altogether, the Merced National History Day competition is moving to a virtual platform. This requires students to convert a poster project into a Google slideshow and PDF.

Says El Portal Elementary student Juniper Helling: “I was excited and also not excited to go to Merced. I was scared I was going to get disqualified because there were so many rules to follow, but I was excited to see other posters. When I first found out it was cancelled, I was pretty excited because I got more time to work on my project.”

On the new virtual format, Helling said, “It’s kind of weird. I don’t understand it that much. Am I going to get to look at other peoples’ projects? It’s harder and easier at the same time. It’s harder because you have to enter all your work into this (online format), but easier because now that there is extra time and I don’t have to bring (the poster) there and set it up. It’s hard to take so many pictures and write everything again (to convert the poster to the online format). I am thankful for my mom helping me.”

Juniper’s mom, Erica Helling, commented: “At this age, it (parental support) is crucial. If you don’t have parental support at home, I don’t see how kids could do this. Especially converting it to the online format. It’s a lot. It’s a whole family commitment.”

Realizing that not all students have access to the same support system outside of school, MCUSD teachers made it a priority to be available for students who needed their support by providing time during and after school to work on the projects.

“At our first training in Merced, the Merced County Office of Education and Merced National History Day coordinators emphasized their commitment to making National History Day accessible to all students and encouraged us to do the same,” said Messick.

She continued: “I am proud of the resilience all these students have shown. They were so excited about going to Merced, showing their projects, answering questions posed by judges, and being inspired by other students. However, they did not give up. When told their plans would be dashed, and they needed to spend more time and energy on their project, they rose to the occasion. For many of the younger participants, this included independently learning a new technological skill. These students are breaking barriers of their own and making history.”

Finalists from the regional NHD competition were set to be notified by April 1 and will then compete in the state competition on April 15, which will also now use a virtual platform.

Participants at the state level, who are in the senior and junior divisions, have the chance to advance to the national and final heat.

The students and teachers of these classes are participating: Stephanie Bobman and her 11th grade AP History class, Mark Abney and his eighth grade U.S. History class, and Messick and her fifth and sixth grade class.

The teachers expressed their sincere thanks to MCUSD and the Merced Office of Education for their support.

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