NIU professors and students, high school teachers and community members volunteered to judge students’ projects at the 51st annual Regional History Fair.
The fair featured projects, performances and documentaries created by students from more than 25 northern Illinois middle and high schools. Students who received a Superior Award at the Saturday fair will continue to compete in the Illinois History Expo (IHE) in May and compete against the best of the four Illinois regions.
Each student chose a research paper, exhibit, media documentary or dramatic performance for their topic, which had to focus on an aspect of llinois’ history. Papers were submitted in advanced to be judged in time for the event. Exhibits were set up on Friday and filled the Duke Ellington Ballroom.
Student performances took place in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium, while documentaries were shown to judges in the Regency Room. The documentaries were the only parts of the fair closed to the public, so judges wouldn’t be interrupted during their decision-making.
Luke Yaklich teaches U.S. history at Joliet West High School and spoke about the “tremendous” job NIU did in hosting the annual fair.
“We’ve been here for the last three years now,” Yaklich said. “We really appreciate Anne Petty Johnson’s work and her organization of this entire day, and the learning experience that it offers high school kids.”
Johnson, director of external programming for the college of liberal arts and sciences, has organized and run the history fair the past 13 years.
The fair offers students a chance to do legitimate research with the use of primary sources, Yaklich said. Many participating students experience a college campus for the first time during the event, Yaklich said.
“Ultimately our project ties into the common course standards, which are going to be part of virtually every high school curriculum from now into the future,” Yaklich said. “It’s multi-faceted for our students and it helps develop their skills on several different levels. So we really enjoy the history fair and it’s something our students look forward to each year and they work really hard to put the best effort that they can towards their projects.”
Trevor Ary, a junior at Burlington Central High School, chose the Christkindlmarket for his topic. It is a traditional German-American holiday market and has been held in Chicago since 1996.
“It was first started to promote German-American trade,” Ary said. “It is the largest Christkindlmarket, and I believe Christmas market in America, [and] has more than one million visitors annually. I go there every year with German Club through my school, and it’s just a really fun thing to do.”
Ary made it to the state history fair last year and learned about a $500 bonus for anyone who had a topic that related to Germany. This year, Ary’s hoped to claim that bonus with his project on the Christkindlmarket.
“Your knowledge of history talks about your knowledge as a person,” Ary said. “The more you know about the past the more you can put it to effect in the future.”
The judging process was lengthy and involved about 100 volunteers, Yaklich said.
“We have a rubric that we follow that is very prescriptive, but there’s some leeway in there,” Yaklich said. “So it’s about the presentation and the argument that the author is trying to make. Do they support the argument with quality sources and then put those quality sources in a coherent manner that the audience, [so] the reader can understand and appreciate the historical significance of the process?”
Olivia Oslandi, a seventh grader at Dalzell Grade School, chose Owen Lovejoy as her topic. Lovejoy was an abolitionist and congressman from Illinois during the 1800s. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
“It’s about the Lovejoy Homestead, which is a stop on the underground railroad and it’s in Princeton,” Oslandi said. Oslandi was able to visit the Lovejoy Homestead. “It was pretty cool. They told about his life and what it was like to live in the 1800s.”
The best history projects of the state’s four regions will compete in the IHE on May 3 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield.