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Tuesday April 5, 2011 Edition
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Diplomacy And Debate In History: Successes, Failures And 58 Teens Find Common Ground

VUHS Sophomores Trevor Patterson and Megan Stearns stand by their exhibit board for Vermont History Day, based on theme of Debate & Diplomacy in History and addressing the issue of Lincoln's Dilemma: The Future of The Union.
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VUHS Sophomores Trevor Patterson and Megan Stearns stand by their exhibit board for Vermont History Day, based on theme of Debate & Diplomacy in History and addressing the issue of Lincoln's Dilemma: The Future of The Union.

Tuesday April 5, 2011

By Cookie Steponaitis

   When the directors of the National History Day competition selected this year’s theme of Diplomacy and Debate in History, Successes, Failures and Compromises, it would appear at first glance that they were not thinking of having fifty-eight teenagers explore it with in-depth research, exhibits, skits, and documentaries. However, if you look again, there is proof that the match up is not only a success but the result of weeks of research, debate, reflection and work on the part of individuals and teams.

   Competing in Vermont History Day from VUHS, fifty-eight freshmen, sophomores and a couple of juniors documented individual research on a list of topics that spanned everything from Debates around the Internet, Debates around Animal Cruelty Laws, Debates in History including the Camp David Accords, Reagan and Gorbachev in the Cold War, and even Machiavelli’s Advice on Keeping Power. Some groups chose to go back into the realm of ancient history and studied the theories debating the construction of the pyramids, while others examined critical debates in history like those that faced President Abraham Lincoln when the southern states seceded from the union in 1860. Other students wishing not to leave out local topics tackled the current controversial debate around the future of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, the Presence of Mexican Labor on Vermont Farms and the rising debate around Organic Farming and its uses globally. Others researched the rising price of gas at the pump linking it to Off-Shore Drilling in the U.S. and the BP accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Still others explored the debate around the role of African-American soldiers in the military and the Tuskegee Airmen, the censorship of music, the positive or negative impact of the assembly line system and the current status of the abortion debate. Rounding out the diverse selection of work includes the Moral Debate of the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb, The Debate over Political Ads, The Debate over Cyber Bullying and how to control it, and First Amendment Rights and the Internet, Vermont Slaughter Houses and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Each group presented their research twice, once at a parent and open house evening on April 1st and to the panel of judges at Vermont History Day on Saturday, April 2nd.

   Within the competition is a rigorous process that includes research and the documentation of the process with a 500 word essay, an annotated bibliography, and an individual or group project in the selected category of exhibits, documentaries, websites, performances or term papers. Students are divided into age categories of grades 6-8 or 9-12 and compete for the chance to represent Vermont at the National History Day Competition in June in College Park, Maryland. The competition represents the 25th plus consecutive year of participation for many local schools like Ferrisburgh Elementary and Vergennes Union High School.

   While the Internet has changed how history can be researched, many of the teens listed as their best sources of information first hand interviews, primary source documents, speeches, maps, photos and diaries. “It was interesting for us, because we got to work on a topic we liked. I even went to Fort Sumter in South Carolina as part of my research,” remarked sophomore Trevor Patterson. Partner Megan Stearns added, “Sifting through all of the records, images and information was interesting and it taught us a great deal about organizing and prioritizing.” While some students focused on the past or far away from home, others learned about current Vermont topics. “It really was intriguing,” commented sophomore Wade Steele. “Living in Vermont and hearing about it all the time, we all still knew relatively little more than basic information about Vermont Yankee and nuclear power in the state. To go there and research a Vermont topic made the experience more meaningful.” Echoing those sentiments was sophomore Marissa Jochum who researched Clarina Howard Nichols, a Vermonter who was active in the Civil Rights Movement early on and paved the way for others like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “I didn’t even know she was a Vermonter when I started the process,” shared Marissa. “The more I learned, the more impressed I was with our state history and the efforts of this one Vermonter.”

    Any teacher, student or homed school student interested in this competition should contact the Vermont Historical Society or look online at National History Day. The process is the same each year and the theme changes. For all involved it is a time of great learning and working on life long skills of presentation, research and communication. The Valley Voice salutes all who look into their past, treasure the unique heritage that is America, and embrace the idea that each generation is the caretaker, preserving and passing on to the next a sense of curiosity, commitment and caring for our state and nation.

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