Having been involved with the National History Day (NHD) program for six years, social studies teacher Carol LaVallee was recognized as one of just 98 teachers across the country accepted into a rigorous summer professional development course, offered by NHD. After roughly two months of modules, analyzation of historical documents, and instruction from college professors, LaVallee is ready to head into the new school year, armed with both face masks and primary sources.
NHD is part of the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium. Such membership allows the program to be met with grants that are used to enrich classes with TPS resources. This led to the creation of four separate courses based on the use of historical documents. Each course had limited spacing despite applications from teachers across the nation.
“I got the acceptance email in late June, maybe early July, and I was so excited,” LaVallee said. “I’m blessed to already know and work a lot with Library of Congress because I took a few classes with them a few years ago, but this was more focused on NHD. While this will help me with all my students, it will especially help my NHD students.”
LaVallee recently finished the third course and is prepared to start the fourth as school approaches. The completed course focused on building historical arguments. Starting with strong thesis building and learning the best way to write a historical paper, LaVallee was guided by professionals biweekly on Zoom meetings. She collaborated with her peers on online discussion boards and continued working with them through peer reviews.
“[The course] was great. In the end, they taught us how to write a historical essay on the college level. I thought I knew how to, but I’m a teacher, not a professor. Now I’ll be able to share that information with my students,” LaVallee said.
LaVallee’s involvement with NHD began when Sarasota County social studies curriculum director Dr. Bernadette Bennett encouraged her to pursue the program as an enrichment opportunity for her civics students. For NHD, LaVallee worked alongside Sarasota Middle social studies teacher Jennifer Jaso, allowing her to better understand the program and work toward elevating her students.
LaVallee’s assistance has helped bring several of her students to the Florida History Day (FHD) conference in Tallahassee. A handful of them later moved on to the national level.
Tenth-grader Siara Brennan participated in NHD during the 2017-2018 school year. The theme for the 2018 convention was Conflict and Compromise, which led to Brennan working alongside tenth-graders Maya Frankowski and Mahitha Ramachandran on a project dedicated to Mary I of England, best known as Queen “Bloody” Mary. The trio made it to the Florida History Day conference, and Brennan attributes their success to LaVallee.
“Mrs. LaVallee was a huge help for our project. She gave us a lot of the information that we needed. When we had questions, she always made sure to clear them up. We went to her after school every time we had a question and her door was always open to us. She was the reason we did as well as we did in the competition,” Brennan said.
Twin brothers Devin Gulliver and Quinn Gulliver were originally interested in NHD because of LaVallee’s promise of two free test grades once the project was completed. Now ninth-graders, the duo didn’t realize during the latter half of 2018 that their plans would bring them to the National History Day Fair at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The two decided to research the maroons, or Black settlers, of the Sarasota and Bradenton area for their project. Considering the 2019 theme was Triumph and Tragedy, the Gulliver brothers thought that the rich and often unheard history of the maroons fit the category perfectly.
Quinn Gulliver credits LaVallee’s primary sources as one of the reasons why their project was able to make it to nationals.
“She gave us a lot of firsthand documents, so we decided to read through those to use for our project. That helped a lot because so much of [NHD] is based on using primary sources. She helped us learn to interpret those sources in class,” Quinn said.
“Two days before the December due date for the projects at school, Mrs. LaVallee was answering our questions all night, trying to make sure our project was up to the national standard. We had written so much that we were focused on removing words and wondering if captions and quotes would be part of the word count, but she was there the entire time. She was there, the second to last night, with us. We couldn’t have done it without Mrs. LaVallee,” Devin said.
LaVallee hopes to continue instilling a love for history and research by encouraging her students to participate in NHD.
“I would recommend NHD to every teacher. It doesn’t even have to be history teachers. I really feel that NHD can put students on the college level with research. By the time you reach senior year, NHD can help move students to researching really well, which means when you reach college, you’ll be that much better. Hopefully, it teaches you how to discover the truth in this day and age,” LaVallee said.