Parker senior promotes love of history at Lower School

By Matthew Piechalak | 

***This story was written in February, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

For decades, Parker has been actively involved in National History Day, the annual project-based contest for middle and high school students. Now, thanks to the efforts of Grade 12 student Cate Hasler, history aficionados at Lower School have their chance to get involved.

Cate, Class of 2020 and president of the Parker History Day Club, established the club for Grade 5 students last year. The Parker lifer has been involved in History Day since Grade 7. 

“It’s a really big part of my personal extracurriculars,” Cate says. “I’ve always found a passion with history and I feel like this project has been a really beneficial way for me to express that.”

National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit educational organization that annually hosts a project-based contest for students from across all 50 states and abroad. Founded in 1974, NHD’s purpose is “to promote the study and appreciation of history among students.” 

Their official motto: “It’s more than a day, it’s an experience.”     

Today, more than a half-million students enter through local contests in one of five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website. Students can work individually or in small groups. Students pick a focus, research historical documents and artifacts, conduct interviews, and organize their findings into a presentation that is then presented to a panel of judges. 

National History Day is an important program at Parker because it allows students to build on their reading, research, writing, and presentation skills, says Middle School social studies teacher Mary Ong-Dean, who along with teacher Cherie Redelings, helped reboot the School’s participation in the contest in 1997 after a hiatus.    

“It gives them the opportunity to take a deep dive into a history topic and develop a project,” says Mary. “Students who participate become experts about their subject matter.”  

History Day is important for students who love Humanities, says Cherie, who first was introduced to NHD when she arrived at Parker in 1991.  

“There are several highly publicized competitions in STEM fields, but there are fewer academic competitions for students who love history,” she says. “It allows students to use their creative skills to develop a topic and involves communicating with an audience, cooperating with a group, and defending a thesis to experts–these will be important skills for students as they pursue careers.” 

NHD has two divisions–a junior division for middle school students and a senior division for high school students. Nationally, the contest is not open to elementary school students. However, the State of California hosts an elementary division for fourth and fifth graders, who can enter a 30-inch by 40-inch poster in the exhibition.  

The category is a scaled-down version of the exhibit category and provides younger students the opportunity to get an introduction to National History Day, according to the NHD’s California chapter. 

“I was thinking about how fourth and fifth graders are allowed to make posters, but no one has ever taken the initiative to begin the program at the Lower School,” Cate says. “As a fourth or fifth grader, I would have really enjoyed doing something like this–it’s such a useful skill to learn.”

Cate reached out to the Grade 5 teachers last school year and set about starting the Lower School version of the Parker History Day Club. Despite some growing pains, the club had one pair win first place at state–the highest achievement at the elementary level. 

Nicholas Kim and Mitchell Janes, both Class of 2026, won for their poster, “The Tragedy and Triumph of Japanese Internment.” Both admit that the new experience was very challenging, but say they had fun navigating their way through it.  

“We learned that anything you do is a challenge and you need to be prepared for whatever happens,” says Nicholas. “Having a plan before making our poster helped,” says Nicholas. “It took about six months of hard work.” 

“It was a great opportunity to learn in-depth about a history topic that you are interested in, all while having a lot of fun with your friends,” says Mitchell. 

Both boys credit Cate with her efforts to start the Lower School club. 

“Without her bringing it there, we would have never known about this competition and wouldn’t have participated,” Nicholas says. 

This year, nine students entered the contest at the Lower School. Each Wednesday, they have been working with Cate to research, compile, and construct their projects for this year’s theme, “Breaking Barriers in History.” 

“The theme is so broad because they are not just physical barriers–they can be symbolic barriers and metaphorical barriers,” Cate says. 

Each session involves teaching mini-lessons, something Cate believes strongly in as someone interested in–potentially–pursuing a career in education. 

“As fifth graders, I have to show them what to do,” Cate says. “I have to be very hands-on, teaching them what doing research looks like, primary and secondary sources, and proper citation.” 

Bringing the existing club to the Lower School allows students to put their academic skills into practice,” Mary believes. “It also creates an opportunity for our [older] students to share their expertise with younger students in our community. Cate is thinking about becoming an educator, and her work with the Lower School History Day Club is a unique learning experience for her.” 

History Day is a natural fit at the Lower School, where students are encouraged to use creative problem-solving skills to design products and to answer questions, Cherie says. 

“It exercises students’ mental muscles,” she says. “We see a huge benefit when Lower School History Day students come up to the Middle School–they find research easier, they create more complex projects, and they love history.” 

Cate relishes the work she is doing to unify the club across all three divisions, and her hope is that it continues to grow after she graduates. 

“It’s been really great to see how successful they’ve been,” she says. “I hope this continues as unity between History Day people across all three divisions. I want to leave knowing there’s that sense of community and family.