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Bagley teacher wins top award to further grow History Day program

A History Day team from Bagley High School was the first from the school to place as high as sixth in state this year. From left are students Gracie Nelson, Megan Flaherty and Tristan Highberg, who finished sixth at state in Senior Division Group Performance. Submitted Photo

BAGLEY — Social-studies students throughout northwest Minnesota are expected to benefit from a Bagley teacher’s trip to Washington, D.C., next week.

Carol Quinn, who has taught social studies teacher in the Bagley School District for 15 years, has been named the 2013 Teacher of Merit by the Minnesota Historical Society, winning a June 7-14 trip to D.C.

While there, Quinn will judge and take part in National History Day, the national level of a yearlong competitive program that fosters history education for students in grades 6-12 as they develop presentations and exhibits reflecting historical, cultural and social experiences.

Quinn said she had no idea she was going to receive the award, but her students were asked in advance to make sure she would attend the award ceremony.

"So, they got ready to announce the Teacher of Merit … and they were saying how it includes an all-expense-paid trip to nationals and you get to stay in the dorms, and you get to go to the Library of Congress, and you get all sorts of sight-seeing opportunities, and you get to be a judge, and I’m going, ‘Yeah, that would be a really cool experience,’ and then they announced my name," Quinn recalled. "The kids had (an idea) … I can’t believe they could keep it secret. They cannot keep a secret about anything ever!"

For five years, Quinn has been growing the History Day program in Bagley. She hopes to return from Washington with experience and tips to improve the performances from her students, as well as those from students throughout northwest Minnesota.

"That’s part of the goal" of the award, said Katie Craven, education program specialist with the Minnesota Historical Society.

Since 1992, the Teacher of Merit award has been given annually, aiming to strengthen History Day programs throughout the state, Craven said. "It (goes to) somebody who has never been to the national contest before and, generally, has not had a student qualify for the national contest but who has been an active participant in History Day with his or her students for four or five years," she said. "Someone for whom going to nationals might give them perhaps a little more oomph."

Specifically, Quinn said she hopes to learn tips for helping rural students obtain primary-source materials, which are typically located in metropolitan areas.

"We’re at a distinct disadvantage up here because we’re so far away from the primary resources," Quinn said, noting that library staff at Bemidji State University and branches within the Kitchigami and Lake Agassiz regional system have been incredibly helpful.

Students have to compile at least 40 pages of annotations — one of her students compiled 72 pages — so access to those documents is key, Quinn said.

While regional students do travel together on bus trips to the Twin Cities to conduct research, there is only so much a student or group can accomplish in one day.

"I’ve got four different groups that have already started for next year and it’s because they’ve gone through it before and they know the pressure mounts," Quinn said. "If you want to do really well, you’ve got to start early to make it easier on yourself."

The joy in coaching the program, Quinn said, comes from watching a student’s excitement as he delves into historical artifacts and documents.

One student actually received a brick from the Ah-Gwah-Ching sanatorium south of Walker, amazed that it was actually part of the building. Another student was given a pair of white gloves as he prepared to personally handle paintings at the Minnesota Historical Society.

"It’s fun when you do take a kid to see some of this stuff, and they actually look at it and they realize this is something that old, this is something that unique," Quinn said.

Metropolitan schools have been taking part in History Day for more than 25 years, Quinn said, while this region has only been involved for about a decade.

"We’re kind of behind here, but we share information really well," Quinn said, referencing the teachers from nine school districts that participated this year in the northwest Minnesota History Day competition. "We’re all friends."

Pam Roiger, a social-studies teacher at Bemidji Middle School, has been running the History Day program in Bemidji for more than 10 years and got to know Quinn about six years ago as they were among recipients of a Teaching American History grant.

That grant, made available to regional history and English teachers, sponsored trips and also set aside some funds to implement a History Day program.

"Pam had been doing it already but some of us other schools who had never tried it before, it covered some registration fees and materials," Quinn said. "It was really cool. It was actually a lot of fun. So we tried it at school as an after-school program for a while and this past year, we actually had it for a class."

Bagley in its first year had seven students take part in the History Day program; this year, there were 32 and 40 have signed up for next year.

Students Gracie Nelson, Megan Flaherty and Tristan Highberg this year formed a team that placed sixth at state in Senior Division Group Performance.

"It’s the furthest we’ve ever gotten," Quinn said, noting that the top two at state qualify for nationals. "Each year, we get a little bigger, with more kids, and we get a little further."

Roiger said Quinn is an energetic teacher and has worked to not only build the Bagley History Day program but throughout the region.

"She’s been a really positive influence in a relatively short period of time," Roiger said.