May 6, 2014 Issue
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Alums Help Make History Come Alive for Colorado Students through History Day

Alums Help Make History Come Alive for Colorado Students through History Day

Stacey Pendleton (left) and Kendra Black (right)

Alumnae Kendra Black (MA History, 2008) and Stacey Pendleton (BA History and Psychology, 2005 and MA History, 2008) know the secret to getting kids ready to succeed in college: allow kids to discover something they are excited to study, then provide them with the skills they need to explore those subjects. "The National History Day in Colorado program really engages kids," Black says. "They are detectives investigating historical topics that interest them, while learning key skills needed for academic and work success."

As State Coordinator and Assistant State Coordinator, respectively, of National History Day in Colorado (NHDC), Black and Pendleton dedicate themselves to making sure kids develop these skills. A social studies and literacy program for middle and high school students, the National History Day program has a proven track record for success: participating students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, research and reading skills, oral and written communication and presentation skills, self-esteem, confidence and a sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process. Nationally, more than 5 million students have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine and countless other disciplines by putting into practice what they learned through the History Day program.

Students, parents and teachers at the NHDC lunchtime lecture, given by William Wagner.

Students, parents and teachers at the NHDC lunchtime lecture, given by William Wagner.

Stacey Pendleton, Lecturer in the CU Denver History Department, has been assisting with NHDC for three years, and says of the experience, "The best part of my job is working one-on-one with the students in the classroom and witnessing the epiphany moments when students get excited about discovering something new. I can say with great confidence that National History Day in Colorado teaches students the skills that they need to succeed in college. In fact, many of the things that our History Day kids are doing in middle school are some of the same methods and processes I expect of my own college students."

Exhibit projects from the Denver Metro NHDC contest.

Exhibit projects from the Denver Metro NHDC contest.

In preparation for History Day competitions, students choose historical topics and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. There is a yearly theme, which for 2014 is Rights and Responsibilities in History. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics' significance in history, students present their work in a variety of formats: original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These projects are entered into competitions at local, state and national levels, where they are evaluated by community volunteers. There are eleven regions across Colorado, and regional winners advance to the State contest hosted at CU Denver in early May. The program culminates in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest, held at the University of Maryland at College Park near Washington, D.C. Last year, 67 Colorado students participated in the national contest, where Hamilton Middle School student Alexander Weissman won gold for his Junior Paper, while Fairview High School student Jessica Piper received the gold medal in Senior Papers.

Housed in CU Denver's History Department, National History Day in Colorado serves as an outreach program linking CLAS and CU Denver with middle and high school students throughout the state. More than 15,000 Colorado students participate annually in National History Day in Colorado. In 2014, CU Denver hosted about 500 students at the Greater Denver Metro Regional Contest on March 8. Additionally, over 700 students from across the state competed at the state contest at CU Denver on May 3. "The contests are a great way to showcase the campus to Coloradans," Black recounts. "The students are accompanied by family members and teachers, and more than 200 judges and volunteers participate. We usually see about 2,500 visitors on the campus during the state contest." CU Denver also sponsored a lunch at both competitions, featuring a talk by Assistant History Professor William Wagner, which gave students, parents and teachers a chance to learn about more CU Denver.

Professor Myra Rich interviewed by Rocky Heights Middle School students in December.

Professor Myra Rich interviewed by Rocky Heights Middle School students in December.

Black stresses that, despite the name, National History Day in Colorado is about much more than a day in May; it is a program in which students and teachers participate year-round: "National History Day in Colorado is a terrible name for a great academic program. NHDC is a social studies and literacy program that teaches kids the skills set out in the Colorado Academic Standards and the Common Core." Black and Pendleton organize yearly NHDC Educator Workshops in cooperation with History Colorado and Teaching with Primary Sources (Library of Congress) to help teachers ensure students get the most out of their NHDC experiences. Fall 2014 workshops are already planned for September 11 and 12 at the History Colorado Center.

In addition, area schools involve CLAS faculty in their preparations throughout the school year. The history department organized a speakers list of faculty willing to help get students prepared for NHDC at schools across the metro area. Holly Spurlin, 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher at Rocky Heights Middle School in Douglas County, was thrilled when CU Denver faculty helped at her interview day back in December. Spurlin required all her students doing projects for History Day to interview at least one person as part of their research. History Professors Myra Rich and Rebecca Hunt were among those who took time to inspire the next generation of historians, and those students in turn were inspired to write to The Castle Pines Connection about the experience.

NHDC is for everyone, and can be a life-changing experience for students, particularly in Colorado's most underserved areas. A former participant in NHDC, Elizabeth Lee is a CU Denver senior graduating with degrees in psychology and communication this spring. "My experiences in History Day were transformative, teaching me for the first time about research and the impact that history has on my future," Lee says. "I attribute some of my academic success in college to the early experience of History Day, and it is exciting to come full circle and volunteer for a program that does so much for kids." Now Lee volunteers as a judge, feeling it is important to give back to the program that has given her so much. Anyone can sign up to volunteer or judge at History Day, and anyone interested in participating in the 2014-2015 program is encouraged to learn more here.

National History Day in Colorado is made possible through donations from individuals and organizations. If you'd like to know more about donating to the program click here. You can also join History Day students, U. S. Senator Michael Bennet, CU Denver Chancellor Don Elliman and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg for a fundraising luncheon on August 29, in CU Denver's newest building on the Auraria Campus. For more information about attending, contact Kendra Black at

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