High school students compete in state history day at Coffman

Four years ago, if anyone had told Maren McMartin that an event called State History Day would be a life-altering event, she probably would not have believed them, she said.

McMartin is certain her life would have been profoundly different if she had not participated in the event in high school.

At age 16, she was like the 2,500 junior and senior high school students making frantic final preparations in Coffman Union’s Great Hall for their State History Day presentations Sunday.

All around her, students were contemplating possible questions judges might ask about their media presentations, practicing lines for their group’s theatrical performances or revising their 15-page research papers for the last time.

McMartin said instead of being a successful, responsible and confident second-year history major at the University, she would probably be a political science major who thinks history is just something that happened long ago and doesn’t affect her.

“You see yourself in history more when you help create it,” she said.

McMartin plans to spend her life teaching history at public schools in Minneapolis and hopes to help the event become further integrated throughout the city.

Brad Jarvis, a history department graduate student who coordinates library tours and interviews that teach students how to research at a college level, defined the event as “a vehicle to further history and social studies education in schools.”

He also said the event teaches individuals how to gather information, organize that information and present it in a way that prepares them for college and other future endeavors. Being involved with the day made Jarvis realize he wants to work with kids, he said.

History junior Natalie Jaworski said the one thing she didn’t want to do with her history degree was teach. But her involvement with the event changed her mind.

The experience taught her how essential teachers are because “we don’t value them enough,” she said.

McMartin said she likes speaking to the students. “The kids are so excited to tell you what they know,” she said.

Student-chosen topics included everything from Jackie Robinson, flappers, racism, Seabiscuit, the history of power lines and more.

McKenzie Erickson and Carolyn Holm, ninth-graders at Southwest High School, created an exhibit board in the Guthrie Theater because their parents met and fell in love there.

Erickson said she likes the day.

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge,” she said.

McMartin said the event is better than a classroom because it’s hands-on. “The competition forces you to think critically and be able to think on your feet,” she said.

She and the other college students said they are grateful for the experience that changed their lives.

“The one thing that is going to keep me coming back is seeing the reaction of the kids and how very proud they are of what they do,” Jaworski said.

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