Carroll Middle School students (from left to right) Evan Hammer, Madeline Parrott, Sophia Tidgren and Shay Sinnard dress up to perform a play they wrote about the Pentagon Papers for their National History Day project. Middle school students have been working on researching and building their National History Day projects since December. (Photos by Kelly Borchers.)
Carroll Middle School students (from left to right) Evan Hammer, Madeline Parrott, Sophia Tidgren and Shay Sinnard dress up to perform a play they wrote about the Pentagon Papers for their National History Day project. Middle school students have been working on researching and building their National History Day projects since December. (Photos by Kelly Borchers.)

April 25, 2019

Students pulled their costumes on and rehearsed their lines about First Amendment rights.

Others set up exhibits to display how the polio vaccine was discovered or what it was that caused the heinous fire of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to take 145 lives in 1911.

For months, students studied, designed and researched various history topics they found interesting for the annual National History Day project undertaken by Carroll Community School District students in sixth through 12th grades.

Kelly Borchers, a gifted and talented teacher at Carroll Middle School, said the History Day projects began in 2000, when she was searching for a new, challenging way to engage her students.

“I was looking for a new academic competition for students to get involved in at the Carroll Community School District,” she said. “Each year, we begin in December and look at the annual theme and brainstorm possible topics for their individual or group projects.”

This year, four of Borchers’ groups have advanced through several rounds of judging and will go to the state competition in Des Moines on Monday.

A few of the standout projects this year include a play about the Pentagon Papers and projects on the discovery of the polio vaccine, the history of Prohibition and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

While working on the projects, the middle school students can either choose between creating a script and acting out a play or making an exhibition to display research information they found through primary and secondary sources.

A primary source is an artifact, diary, first-person interview or any original source of information. A secondary source is a document or recording created, researched or studied after the event occurred.

For the Pentagon Papers project, students called and interviewed Anthony Essaye, the attorney that represented The Washington Post, as well a Floyd Abrams, the attorney for The New York Times.

Both lawyers were able to provide them with a lot of background about the Pentagon Papers and informed them on the legal aspects of how it all unfolded.

To get journalistic input, the students also spoke with Carol Hunter, the executive editor of The Des Moines Register.

Hunter told the students how newspapers rely the First Amendment when reporting and writing.

“She kind of said the First Amendment is the concrete base for everything they do, and it’s the foundation for everything they do, and they always fall back on it,” Carroll Middle School student Sophia Tidgren said.

In other groups, students used scholarly websites to research and create bibliographies and cite where they found their research.

Middle school student Macy Tunning said the sources allowed her group to delve deeper into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and learn how the incident was dealt with and how people reacted to the fire.

“I think that if we wouldn’t have looked into sources, we wouldn’t have found as many people’s perspectives from outside the building and how they never saw anything like this before and (it) helped them to see it was a horrible thing and how inside the building — not just that building — but other buildings that were not up to date and up to code,” she said.

For all of the students, the project was more than a learning experience or a way to look back in time — it was fun.

“I like the fact that we’re doing it with friends,” said Caeden Canuso, a seventh-grade student at Carroll Middle School. “If we were just doing it by ourselves, it would kind of be boring, but if we are doing it with friends and we get to do it together.”

Borchers said the History Day project teaches students to find credible sources for their research and also cultivates team building skills.

They learn to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time and persevere,” she said. “History Day students are critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information.”