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Carol Anne Costa: When Students Soar, We All Benefit

Thursday, April 10, 2014


While political topics, controversies, pension reform and campaigns swirl in the headlines, it is time for a deliberate pause in order to salute the efforts of an army of fledging historians represented in force at Providence College this past weekend. Their efforts, creativity and passion will make your heart sing and your brain happy.

Inspired, uplifted and energized are all understatements when it comes to National History Day in Rhode Island. For nearly a decade I along with dozens of educators and history buffs have had the honor to serve as judges for this fabulous celebration of students, teachers and history. The day is special, nerve racking and exciting and represents a culmination of an entire school years’ worth of work developed, researched and presented by hundreds of ocean state students.

The comprehensive approach to learning used by History Day  to me, is a model which incorporates so many valuable learning tools; literacy, technology, research, oratory and many valuable skills, but more it restores my faith in our youth and bolsters my respect for innovative and inspiring teachers.

It takes a village

As the weather finally held a true hint of spring in the air the quiet PC campus transformed into a hot bed of thought, innovation and imagination as hundreds of students from all over the RI descended on the campus. They come armed to the teeth with exhibit boards, laptops, tablets, phenomenal ideas and a better understanding of history. Also on board for the day is a myriad of professionals who give their time to judge the projects.

Projects are judged according to the NHD rules and what truly makes History Day special is “the interview” portion of the day. Each student or group of students speaks with the judges directly; they explain their topic, why it moved them, how they arrived at the visuals and then they field questions from a panel of judges, who at times can be intimidating. And, what happens in this part of the process is magical, from my perspective this is what really makes me smile. These kids are remarkable.

I had the pleasure to speak to a young man in my category; Senior Websites, he regaled me with the nuances of Northern Securities Antitrust Case complete with insightful observations about Theodore Roosevelt to whom he affectionately referred to as “TR”- I loved it! In all my years of judging, I too, learn something new each year, and that is fantastic.

Unsung service

According to the NHD website: The National History Program is a nationally recognized educational initiative. The program is a year year-long academic program focused on historical research for 6th to 12th grade students. The program was awarded the prestigious 2011 National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. Believe me, the experience of judging is rewarding, fulfilling and the judges leave a bit smarter as well.

Diane Morel, History Department Chair at Saint Mary Academy-Bay View, another veteran History Day judge summed it up well, “I judge Rhode Island History Day because it is a way to move beyond my daily role as a history educator and support a program that values the benefit of history education as an important component of American education.” I concur wholeheartedly with Diane.

The unsung heroes of the herculean endeavor are Marie Parys and Joseph O’Neill, as they have stewarded the program since before I can remember. This year they were tasked to showcase the work created by 286 students from 30 different schools.

Arranging the judging schedule of 60+ judges, addressing the 2014 theme of “Rights and Responsibilities” was no small task either. Marie and Joe are so grateful for the volunteer army of judges, said Marie,”We could not do this without the time and talent of the dedicated judges.” Conversely, RI must remain appreciative for the service of Marie and Joe to bring this program to life for so many students statewide.

If History Day is an Indicator, We’ll Be Just Fine

Each year I leave the PC campus with an extra spring in my step thinking, “we will be just fine.” These kids will be exceptional members of society and we need them armed with critical thinking and civic prowess, and trust me- they've got this! Truth be told, much of the airwaves are littered with kid’s half-naked selfies and egocentric (ill advised) behavior, it is rewarding to be part of a program where smart, hard working kids get their due.

When you are feeling down I strongly urge a trip to First Lego League Robotics competitions, RI Science and Engineering Fair, The Academic Decathlon, Rhode Island State Spelling Bee and of course RI History Day, I assure you , you will feel much better about tomorrow. Interacting with smart, engaged kids is a certain pick me up. Kudos to all!

The list of the 2014 NHD for the State of Rhode Island finalists is up and if you know any of these students reach out and let them know you are proud of the achievement.

After a summer respite 2015 RI History Day will be in full swing in classrooms throughout the Ocean State. I look forward to next year’s judging, and if you love history, creativity, kids, teachers and are interested be a judge! I personally guarantee a wonderful experience.

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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