National History Day

Karis Newbury, right, explains her model of an ancient Greek theater Tuesday to Alissa Gregg, left, Lexi Noble, center, and McKenna Gladden during the first round of the National History Day competition at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

Using the modern magic of iMovie, Willow Armfield reached well into the last century.

Rather than make a poster or write a paper for Sinagua Middle School's schoolwide National History Day, the young photographer put her interest in the Polaroid camera into motion with a short documentary on the development of the instant camera.

It was the only movie among hundreds of entries, and it didn't come easily, but Willow wanted the challenge. She put 40 hours of work into the film, which she showed among other history projects Tuesday in the school gym.

Though the Polaroid's heyday was long before Willow's time, she appreciates the iconic camera.

"I learned that the way that they are built is still integrated into today's cameras," she said.

National History Day is a national celebration of history in schools -- something like a science fair but for social studies, showcasing textbook-worthy happenings from technological advances and major events to notable personalities or era-defining political movements and wars.

The project is new to Flagstaff this year, specifically Sinagua, and the school participated in a big way. Every seventh- and eighth-grader, and a few sixth-graders, at the school submitted an entry, and some of the older students' work will go on to a regional competition next month and possibly a state and national contest.


Most of the exhibits were tri-fold posters, some with extra visual aids like toy soldiers or models. Some students made virtual displays on websites of their own design, while others wrote academic papers or put together performances. Hundreds of students participated.

Students studied what spoke to them, whether whimsical, tragic or heady: the Titanic, the Sept. 11 attacks, women's suffrage, the Navajo Long Walk, the automobile, Code Talkers; the history of makeup, basketball and the Muppets; Roe vs. Wade, the Red Scare and Navajo water rights.

A clever display on the Wright Brothers put scaled-down photocopies of diary entries, drawings and a telegram pasted into a diary.

A team project on the Battle of Little Big Horn had a thoughtful essay pasted against a backdrop that was supposed to look like a cave wall.

"In the world today, we read about this war being fought with arrows and guns but now with machine guns and nuclear weapons. The same 'divide and conquer' thinking has led to famine, slow death, pain, suffering, debt and loss of Earth's raw materials, same as the past."

One girl had an exhibit on Muhammad Ali, remarkable for her family's connection to the legendary boxer. Her grandfather, a doctor, had treated one of Ali's children while Ali trained in seclusion in Show Low in 1976. Her primary source documents were gems: original photos and a picture of a signed boxing glove from the family collection.

Teacher Kyle Haynes headed up the schoolwide effort. He wanted students to have a positive academic experience, and he was pleasantly surprised with the response.

"When you have high expectations, the kids come along with you," he said.

History professors and soon-to-be history teachers for the younger set came from Northern Arizona University to judge entries.

Professor Linda Sargent Wood was also pleased with the student's creativity and thought as they took an inquiry-based approach to history, one that asked for critical thinking and investigation beyond rote memorization of key dates and names.

"It actually asks them to be historians, to do the work," she said.

Hillary Davis can be reached at or 556-2261.


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