Wheaton students take victory at National History Day Contest
History teacher: ‘It was a fitting end to a historic contest year’
Jason Navarro, history teacher at Wheaton High School, is proud of his students, who will soon be receiving medals for achieving a great victory in a national contest.
“A special year for Wheaton National History Day students came to a spectacular conclusion on June 15 at the national contest in College Park, Md.,” Navarro said.
Wheaton sophomores Tori Goostree, Rachel Lacey, Hallie Mitchell and Audrey Shockley won the Outstanding Entry Award for all high schools in the state of Missouri for their Senior Group performance of ‘We Have to be the Change We Want to see in the World: The Little Rock Nine Takes a Stand in the Name of Opportunity for All.’
“This was the first national-level award in the program’s history, part of a year of firsts for Wheaton History Day students,” Navarro said. “The national contest is extremely competitive with over 3,000 students, so they were pretty excited about winning.”
In addition to their award-winning performance, the sophomores toured sites in the Washington, D.C., metro area, including several Smithsonian museums, national monuments and the National Cathedral.
Previous to the national competition, the group took victories at regionals in Joplin and state in Columbia.
“This is something they started last fall so it’s required a lot of time and effort,” Navarro said.
Students could compete in variety of categories, such as documentaries, research papers or exhibits, but performance is their tour de’ force, Navarro said.
“They’ve chosen plays,” he said. “We have found that performance is our niche. Especially these ladies — they’re not shy and have no problem getting in front of people. It just fits their personality. They work hard, and the members all have diverse skills that allow them to come together to get things done. So they’re a really good mix.
“Group performance is what these girls have been doing since they were seventh-graders. They write and act out a play to explore a theme in history, and this year’s theme was Take a Stand. This is second time they’ve qualified for nationals, and they have qualified for state all four years they’ve competed.”
For a smaller school district like Wheaton to take a national victory is a big deal, Navarro said.
“The big schools tend to dominate this contest,” Navarro said. “A lot do this with their gifted programs. They have an hour a day to work on their project and do it year-round, whereas what we do is completely extra-curricular. So Wheaton continues to have success despite some pretty big disadvantages, and that has drawn notice over the years. To go win a national award — that’s pretty exciting.”
Navarro, who is in his 15th year of teaching at the district, is passionate about teaching history.
“I am very much a storyteller and try to hit on personal details in history and their relevance.”
Navarro said sharing rarely-told details about a historical figure, such as personality quirks or circumstances that happened to them and motivated them to be who they were make history come alive, keeps the listener’s attention and relevance helps students see the big picture.
“People will tell me they hated history in school, but love it as adults,” Navarro said. “My goal is to help students see the relevance of it now, and I feel like we’re having success with that. These kids are passionate about history because they understand the impact it has on their lives right now.”
Other student teams also celebrated victories, as shared by Navarro.
“Competition began at the regional level on March 10 at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Three teams advanced to the state contest, held on April 29 at the University of Missouri in Columbia. State-level highlights included a team of Kaylee Hutsell and Hannah Lombard becoming Wheaton’s first state finalists in the Senior Group Documentary category for their entry ‘The Sun Still Shines and We Will Not be Silenced: Sophie Scholl’s Stand Against Hitler and the Nazis.’”
The team’s winning performance was about the first high school to integrate interracial students in 1957, and about the racism incidents students endured each day and how they stood up for a bigger cause.
The Columbia contest also produced Wheaton’s first Special Prize winning entry, as Lina Hang, Samantha Sherwood and Kayla Vang won the Strickland African American History Prize for their Senior Group Performance of ‘The Impact of a Mother’s Stand: Mamie Till’s Fight for Justice.’ The students were each given $100 for their victory.
“This overall was our best year,” Navarro said. “And, as their knowledge has grown, the students just get better and better over the years. For example, the idea of taking a stand, the documentary group understood that if we didn’t have someone stand up to Hitler and the Nazis, no one would have known what their government was doing. The students understand they can change the world by their actions today.
“I am so proud of these girls and everything they’ve accomplished, and look forward to working with them the next couple of years and seeing how high they can go. It was a fitting end to a historic contest year.”