When we think of Walt Disney, we think of animated movies, not history.
Ask Sinagua Middle School seventh-grader Grace Kuche how Disney fits into National History Day's theme, "Turning Points in History," and she has a ready answer: "If it wasn't for him we wouldn't have synchronized sound animation today."
For the last four years, Sinagua has been participating in the national competition called National History Day. Seventh- and eighth-graders are required to participate. Sixth-graders are also allowed to participate but their entries are not judged.
Students create displays, websites, documentaries, plays or monologues to demonstrate what they have learned on a chosen topic. Projects must be related to the theme, "Turning Points in History."
"The fun part is students can choose what they study," said Gabriel Gomez, Sinagua history department chair.
He gave the example of one student choosing the movie "Jaws" and how it changed the perception of sharks.
"As long they can make the historical connection and connect it to the year's theme, it's open to anything," he added.
Students work on their projects for a couple of months, getting helpd from Northern Arizona University students. Gomez said students learn how to complete research, cite references and the differences between primary sources (letters, journals, photographs) and secondary sources.
They need to back up their argument as to why their topic is a turning point in history. One student's website on "The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire" had tabs with safety laws before and after, a timeline, an essay on why the event was a turning point and documents from when the event occurred.
"We are teaching kids how to be a historian and how to read and write like a historian," Gomez said.
Veronica Villegas, a social studies teacher, said the event fits in well with national standards and the new Common Core standards, which are being required in Arizona.
About 20 students will go to the regional competition next Saturday at NAU. From there, top competitors go to state the top finishers there go to nationals.
Sinagua student Willow Armfield went to nationals last year with a documentary on the Polaroid camera.
"It was amazing to see the other creations and how well they were made," Willow said.
She has another documentary entry this year called "Stonewall: The Voice of Freedom" about the Stonewall Riot of 1969.
"I have a bunch of topics in my head and I see which is relevant to the theme and base (my project) on that," she said.
She used iMovie to create the video. She uses numerous clips to reinforce her argument with her own voice as voice-over. Her documentary is nine minutes and 50 seconds long. The eighth-grader hopes to have a career as a photographer and documentarian.
The regional competition will have about 100 entries from students in northern Arizona including Flagstaff, Prescott, Winslow, Page and Kingman, including the top 20 from Sinagua.
Gomez said the inspiration for competing in the event came from the Northern Arizona History Academy Teaching American History (NAHA TAH) grant administered by NAU. NAHA TAH promotes social studies education in primary and secondary education.
JUDGING AT NAU
Christi Carlson of NAU is one of the National History Day coordinators. NAU brings pre-service teachers to judge the entries. The competition is open to the public.
"This is history goes to the science fair," Carlson said. "Students define the question, do research, form an argument related to the topic. It can go a million ways."
Grace Kuche's project on Walt Disney explains how he changed animation, but that's not why she was initially interested in him. Grace said she chose Disney because he has always been an inspiration to her.
"He makes everyone happy," she said. "He uses tons of creativity and inspiration in his projects."
She said she also likes how he asked for help in his work.
"He was going to name Mickey Mouse, 'Mortimer' but his wife said it didn't fit his character so suggested 'Mickey,'" Grace said.
She didn't find his birth certificate but found his death certificate, and she noted he died of lung cancer along with his adopted daughter.
"This is the fourth time we've done this," Gomez said. "We're getting better at it every year."
Cecile LeBlanc can be reached at 556-2261 or email@example.com.
If you go
National History Day Regional Competition
Saturday, Feb. 23
NAU Liberal Arts Building