Three National History Day projects created by Silver High School students are among the top 10 in the nation in their respective categories in this year’s competition — and two of those rank in the top five nationally.
Issac Beck made ninth place with his individual performance, Mikaela Johnson took fifth place with her individual documentary and Avery and Anson Beck made fourth place in group websites. The team, which routinely places at the national level, is sponsored by Silver High history teachers Claudie Thompson and Lee Wilson.
Avery Beck, a recent Silver High graduate, joined his brother Anson — a rising senior — to research and create their website, “Debate and Diplomacy in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.” It focuses on the protection of international intellectual property rights, and specifically on one agreement which is still in use today.
“The last year’s experience was awesome,” Avery Beck said. “I did better than I’ve ever done at nationals, and I was able to take an awesome trip to D.C. In many ways, it was the culmination of four years of work.”
Both Avery and Anson had qualified for nationals before and had placed in the top 10 twice, but they had been unable to take the usual trip to the nation’s capital due to COVID-19 restrictions that the school had to follow.
Johnson, a recent graduate, won for her documentary, “Restoration of a Place of Worship: The Return of Taos Blue Lake.” It focuses on a 64-year-long battle between the people of the Taos Pueblo and the U.S. government over ownership of lands.
Johnson was also one of 34 nationally selected to feature in an online showcase at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Johnson said that she was disappointed when she realized she had not made the top three, because this was her last year to compete.
“I think that’s the common denominator of being an NHD kid,” Johnson said. “You always expect more from yourself, but sometimes you have to take a step back and realize how much you’ve accomplished, and how far you’ve gone.”
Issac Beck, a rising sophomore, was responsible for creating “Debate and Diplomacy: The Fight for Equal Representation.” He said his performance focused on the creation of representation for each state during the Constitutional Convention.
“I had fun putting the work into my project and creating it,” Issac said. “I am very excited to start working on next year’s project.”
Six other projects also competed at nationals: a group documentary by Elizabeth McDonald and Maleah Diaz, an individual website by Michael Calkins, an individual website by Daniella Holguin, an individual documentary by Mitchell Konopnicki, an individual paper by Colton Traeger and a group performance by Lauren Brueggemann, Sophia Abeyta, Addison Drennan and Faith Pellegrino.
Both of Silver High’s National History Day sponsors expressed pride in their students who competed at the national level, as well as the community that supports them. They also commented on the work ethic it takes to reach that level of competition.
“We might be from a small town, but our NHD program repeatedly shows it can compete with anybody in the country,” Thompson said. “I personally want to give a big shout-out to Mikaela Johnson for being the first student we’ve had to finish in the top 10 three times in her high school career. That is an amazing accomplishment.”
Even though the national competition was held virtually again this year, Silver High’s national finalists were given the option to take a trip with their sponsors to Washington, D.C., for a week of museum tours, performances and other tourist visits.
“With regard to the trip itself, it was simply a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Wilson said. “The pandemic showed how fragile the ability to travel freely is. After missing out for two years, it was quite depressing for us, because the kids had earned it, and the nation’s capital is something I think every American should visit. We were determined, if we had students qualify, that we would go, somehow.”
The Silver High group visited major museums, monuments and Arlington National Cemetery, as well as spots “off the beaten path,” according to Wilson, such as the theaters at the Kennedy Center and Mount Vernon. Each day, sponsors left the navigation to the students, to give them confidence in finding their way throughout the city.
“I went to D.C. in sixth [grade], but this time I had a much better experience, because of the group I was with and the planning involved,” Issac Beck said.
Both sponsors thanked the community for their support in funding the trip, which was paid for in part by fundraisers members organized throughout the school year.
The theme for 2023’s competition will be “Frontiers in History: People, Places, and Ideas,” and Thompson and Wilson both said they look forward to finally returning to in-person competition after three years of online events.