Last week I served as a History Fair judge for a Chicago public elementary school. This was my second year judging, and I signed on again knowing I would probably be asked to read between 7 and 10 gigantic boards (or other media) on various historical topics related to Illinois/Chicago history.
The projects were impressive, I must say. Each of these students had enough research, documentation, and text to fill a children’s book. In my opinion, many of the projects could be repackaged as such and pitched to a publisher.
I thought I knew what to expect because of last year, but I guess every year the kids up the ante. For example, one of the first boards I looked at this year featured the student’s interview with the former Mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne! There, staring me in the face, was a photograph of them together at a Chicago diner.
I awarded two perfect scores, for two completely different projects. They were beautiful projects. I’m so proud of these kids, and I don’t even know who they are.
In all my years of public schooling, I do not remember ever being asked to complete a History Fair project. So I can honestly say that I do not know if I could have done this level or quality of work at the age of 12-14. I wish someone cared enough to ask me to try.
What makes the History Fair so special, then, is not what the kids learn about history, but what they learn about themselves. These young kids know exactly what they can accomplish and exactly how much effort it takes to accomplish it.
And that is a rare gift.