Making history: Statewide competition continues online

Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig eighth-grader Nevaeh Kingbird works on her State History Day presentation. The competition will be held online for the first time this year. Submitted photo.

BEMIDJI -- Nevaeh Kingbird probably did not expect to give her award-winning presentation without an audience.

The 2020 theme for the annual History Day competition, “Breaking Barriers in History” began to apply to the participating students’ own lives in ways they never could have anticipated as they now face an unprecedented pandemic and navigate school closures and cancellations.

The History Day competition would not end up being one of those closures, however, as the show must go on -- online.

Kingbird, an eighth-grader at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School, is one of many local students currently awaiting virtual judgment for their projects at the statewide competition.

Her project is a poster presentation on the Boston Massacre, in which she details the long and short term impact of the incident, and why those involved broke historical barriers.


Local students, Kingbird included, competed in early March at BSU for regional history day, after finishing as finalists earlier in the year at their individual schools. Those who placed at regionals qualified for the state history tournament.

“During this time of uncertainty and so many cancellations, it was important to us to continue to give students an opportunity to showcase their work,” said Sammi Jo Papas, National History in Minnesota co-coordinator. “Students have spent countless hours on research and project creation. We wanted them to have the ability to share that effort with judges and show off their academic achievements.

Every year 27,000 Minnesota students across the state participate in History Day with competition season kicking off in March. With the arrival of COVID-19 this spring, MNHS History Day staff quickly realized that in-person competitions—which gather thousands of students, parents and judges together—weren’t going to be possible.

Once schools closed and social distancing began, students and teachers faced a range of obstacles to finish up projects for competition. Unable to meet in person, students and teachers had to work together remotely, reformat physical projects like exhibit boards and performances for a digital competition, and submit projects for more than 2,000 students.

Relying largely on tools like Google Drive to host projects online, staff worked with nearly 500 judges to virtually run regional competitions. Judges volunteered an estimated 2,425 hours of time, offering feedback on individual and group projects and selecting students to continue to the State History Day competition.

Those interested in viewing the competing projects may see a virtual showcase of the 721 entries online .

Students uploaded their final projects for judging on April 24, and 350 judges are currently deliberating. At 7 p.m. on May 3, a live award ceremony will be streamed on the Minnesota History Day Facebook page , to announce winners and celebrate the achievements of all participants.

“This wasn't the year we originally planned for, but we know that the skills History Day students have learned this year will be beneficial to them long after the current health crisis is over,” said Sarah Aschbrenner, National History Day in Minnesota co-coordinator.


Finalists in the statewide competition will qualify to compete for a national title, which will also take place virtually.

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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