Saturday, March 24, 2007

History Fair

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.


Johnny Yen said...

Recently I was watching the dvd of one of my favorite shows, the mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon" for the umpteenth time, and they make that very point-- that beyond whatever technical things came out of the moon program, it was a gratifiying accomplishment for the country-- to show that we could do it.

Working with the kids that I do, one of the first things I have to do is overcome years of percieved failure and frustration on their parts. There is no reward greater than seeing a kid feel that sense of accomplishment. Sometimes you have to throw them a softball or two in order to start overcoming their pasts.

It was great seeing you and Tim Saturday. We need to get together with you guys-- kids, and my wife and everybody.

Kathy said...

Yes, I think your idea about the Cornservatory sounds like a plan!