Projects send students to new, and familiar, lands |

Projects send students to new, and familiar, lands

Michael Neary
Marlyn Arellano, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Craig Middle School, looked at the impact of the Mexican Revolution on immigration into the United States for her National History Day project. Here she talks with fellow Craig Middle School eighth-grader Owen Allen.
Michael Neary

— The National History Day projects that Craig Middle School students are pursuing have unveiled a vast expanse of territory for them. Sometimes, that territory leads them to places they’ve never explored — and sometimes it brings them a little bit closer to home.

“They got to choose anything they want as long as they could tie it to the theme,” said Alicia Townsend, who teaches eighth grade. She’s one of the school’s social studies teachers helping students with their projects.

The students’ activities are rooted in the work of a nonprofit organization in College Park, Md., called National History Day. This year the theme is tabbed “Exploration, Encounter and Exchange in History.”

On Tuesday, dozens of students presented their research projects to family members and any other guests who might be listening. They used computerized presentations, writing, speeches, artfully crafted cardboard displays and a smattering of other media. Townsend said the students were practicing for an upcoming regional competition on March 5 in Grand Junction, where they’ll vie for spots in a state competition in Denver.

“Last year was our first year,” Townsend said. “We only took eight kids, and four of them placed at state. We’re hoping to send a lot more kids to state this year.”

Among the students practicing on Tuesday were Stefan Grabowski and Kevin Snyder. They explored the concept of black holes — something that, not long ago, they knew very little about. But as Kevin tells it, once they stumbled upon some information they found themselves pulled, as if by gravitational force, into the allure of black holes.

“We didn’t really know anything about black holes,” Kevin said. “We were going through an article, and we just saw a random little paragraph about black holes — about the mass and gravity — and we got really interested.”

Stefan said there’s still relatively little known about black holes, but what has been discovered is humbling.

“They are the most powerful thing in the universe that we know of,” Stefan said. “An average-sized black hole, 200 times the size of the sun and 500 times the mass of the sun, could swallow our solar system in minutes.”

Projects touched a host of other issues, as well, including a penetrating look at Buffalo Bill’s effect on Native American communities, an exploration of the workings of the Internet and a critical look at Apollo 13. There were many other powerful projects, as well, with 63 seventh and eighth-grade students participating. Townsend said the students are taking a social studies enrichment class.

Ellina Jones and Alayna Behrman, both seventh-graders, worked on a project examining HIV/AIDS.

“We were going to do ALS, but we already knew a lot about it,” Ellina said. “We wanted to do a virus that not many people would do.”

If some students worked on projects that brought them into entirely new territory, Marlyn Arellano, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, delved into a project that yielded new knowledge about a place that already plays a profound role in her identity.

Marlyn looked at the impact of the Mexican Revolution on immigration into the United States. Like many other students, Marlyn talked easily about her subject, without even referring to notes. She described the reaction among many in Mexico to the presidency of Porfirio Diaz.

“He was being unfair to a lot of the middle class and lower class citizens,” she said. “And because of that, a lot of people were just not happy. So a couple of men — one of them was Francisco Madero — led the revolution.”

She then described the way families migrated to the United States in a large immigration wave from 1910 to 1920.

Marlyn, whose parents were born in Mexico, noted how her own interest in the topic sprouted.

“My family’s Hispanic,” she said. “When I saw immigration (among the topic choices), it seemed like a good idea. I knew I could ask my parents a lot about it, and I went to them for help.”

Standing in front of a crisp and colorful display, Marlyn also contemplated what it might have been like for the people she was learning about to settle in the United States.

“I think it might have been pretty tough for them,” she said. “They had to get used to a new culture and a new people — and a new language.”

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