Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Students tell stories of conflict and compromise

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Terah Minor-Jones, 14, (left) Sofia Maia-Goldstein, 13, with her hair tied in a beard and Melissa Terry, 13, from A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring laugh as they prepare for their presentation on the Baltimore riots of 1861 at the Montgomery County Historical Day competition last month at Julius West Middle School in Rockville. The group won a third place special prize.
Portraying a Native American, Caitlin Perdue, 17, told the story of the conflict faced by many who were forced to choose between tribal loyalty and mainstream acceptance.

As Te Ata, a Chickasaw storyteller, in the annual Montgomery County History Day competition, she showed that resolving the conflict was often a matter of finding the balance between the two cultures.

‘‘I love doing this,” said Perdue, a home-schooled student from Derwood.

She has competed in the county history competition for the last five years.

‘‘I am a registered member of the Chickasaw nation and I’m just learning about my heritage now,” she said, explaining how she chose her topic.

The competition, open to all county middle and high school students, asks students to present history projects on the topic of their choice as long as their research aligns with the theme of the contest. This year the theme was ‘‘Conflict and Compromise in History.”

Students were permitted to present their research in a number of ways besides performance, the category Perdue chose.

Ivan Quach, 12, Kyle Albert, 11, and Nathan Thomas, 11, all sixth-graders at St. Catherine Laboure School in Wheaton, presented an exhibit on World War I. They worked together to create a display board with pictures of the conflict and a reproduction of a diary from a soldier who died in the trenches.

‘‘We focused on trench warfare and how World War I began,” Quach said.

The compromise required by this year’s theme included researching the Treaty of Versailles.

‘‘The League of Nations forced Germany to sign the treaty on June 28, 1919,” Albert said.

The boys were brimming over with facts about the war and life in the trenches, something new to war at that time because soldiers needed to protect themselves from machine guns, the boys said.

‘‘Before that the solders could just lie on the ground,” Thomas said.

Their teacher, Macy Butler, waited outside the exhibit hall while her students talked to the judges about their work. Butler had 24 students in the competition, which was a required assignment for her sixth-grade social studies classes.

‘‘I find that analysis is part of this and it creates a better product than just giving facts,” she said.

The Montgomery County Historical Society has sponsored the competition for the last nine years, said Emily Correll, the society’s school program co-coordinator.

‘‘We think it is important,” she said. ‘‘It teaches the students to research a topic fully and teaches them about primary and secondary sources and being able to present your research in a coherent way, a skill you need later in life no matter what you do.”

Another benefit of researching a topic for the competition is that ‘‘you can’t just present facts, you have to reach some sort of conclusion,” Correll said.

In addition to performance and exhibits, students could enter their research as a paper, a documentary film or, new this year, a Web site. There were 146 entries in the March 15 event, which included 255 students, since many categories allowed for group entries.

The halls of Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville filled with students, parents and teachers as the judging came to an end and the exhibit hall opened for everyone to view the students’ work. Although the performances were over, Cairo Eubanks, 12, a seventh-grader at Calvary Lutheran School in Silver Spring was still dressed in a long red velvet gown and dark wig for her portrayal of Anne Boleyn.

Eubanks took about two months to do her research.

‘‘I realized how much fun it was,” she said. ‘‘I went to the library and was like a kid in a candy store.”

Although Eubanks and the sixth-grade boys did not advance to the state competition this year, all said they would take part in the competition again next year.

Perdue was the winner in the Senior Individual Performance division and will compete in the state competition April 26 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.