National History Day remains altered by pandemic


Students display their exhibits together in a gallery-walk style, presenting their research to passerby.

Cailyn Robertson, Sports Editor

National History Day (NHD) is an annual project-contest held nationwide for grades 6-12. It aims to promote the study and appreciation of history among participating students, giving them the freedom to research a topic of interest and present their learning via different mediums: papers, exhibits, websites, documentaries or performances.

Sophomores taking AP US History (APUSH) at NC are required to complete an NHD project during the third quarter of the school year, though they begin their work on their projects in the first semester.

The project is primarily driven by APUSH and CPUSH teacher David Wheeler, who brought the project with him when he started teaching at NC. He sees this project as a highly beneficial task for his students.

“It teaches students a number of different skills that are transferable beyond just history. That idea of looking at a firsthand account and trying to make meaning of that and relating that to a much broader topic I think is a skill that’s transferable in a number of different classes,” Wheeler said.

NHD allows students to dive into topics of interest, giving them the freedom to learn beyond the classroom. It is the hope that through this self-selection, students can reinvigorate their interest in research and history itself.

“When it’s done, from a standpoint that students are really invested, the best projects that I have always seen have been those where students have selected a topic of interest,” Wheeler said.

To Wheeler, this aspect of the project is what makes it appealing to give to students.

“I think it is great when students have some choice about a particular topic they want to choose versus say just everybody does the five-page paper, they turn it in and they are done with it. That has been the part that I have probably enjoyed the most,” Wheeler said.

After completing their projects, students normally present their works to their family and community via an exhibition at NC. Prior to the pandemic, this exhibition had become a notable event, with a couple hundred people attending to see the work of the sophomores.

“Our students were definitely becoming much more appreciative of the idea of viewing the work of their peers and having an opportunity to see what they had done versus just submitting a project or submitting a paper and just being done with it and waiting on the grade. It was really kind of a sense of community and a sense of communal learning,” Wheeler said.

With the necessary restrictions in place due to COVID-19, this exhibition has not occurred since the school shut down in 2020. Though scheduled to continue this spring, unspecified circumstances made scheduling it difficult.

Outside of completing the projects for class, students are able to register for the district competition. This year’s competition was on Saturday, March 11 at the Carmel Freshman Center. Prior to the pandemic, many sophomores participated in the competition, a good portion advancing on to state.

“Most years we would have at least a third of the projects that were entered at the district competition advance to state; on better years it would be close to half. The track record of students advancing from district to state was very good,” Wheeler said.

The difficult part of the competition is advancing from state to nationals, and Wheeler believes it is that advancement that has been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, students had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. for the competition. With the restriction in place to halt the spread of COVID-19 as well as the craziness surrounding the capital, that trip has not been available in the past few years.

“Over the course of my time here, this is now my eleventh year, we’ve had four or five projects that have placed in the top 10 nationally, so I think it’s a great track record, I just feel like we’ve hit a little bit of a speed bump the last couple years as far as advancing from state to nationals,” Wheeler said.

Throughout Wheeler’s years of teaching at NC, he has witnessed the growth of NHD within the district. All three middle schools have found some way to incorporate the project in their curriculum. With each year’s sophomores, Wheeler has seen an increase in the number of students with prior knowledge of the NHD expectations and overall project.

“To be an APUSH teacher and to ask the question of ‘sophomores, how many of you have experience with National History Day’ and to see close to 85% of the hands go up is reassuring and it definitely helps that we’re not speak so much of a foreign language like we were six or seven years ago,” Wheeler said.

It is the hope of Wheeler that the structure of NHD is able to return to normal within the next couple of years, drawing the attention of the community through its exhibition and developing those who participate into well-rounded and curious students.