PORTLAND — Griswold High School students Karalin Reynolds and Rylee Mann qualified to represent Oregon in the National History Day contest with their documentary “Operation Firefly: The Barrier-Breaking Battalion,” along with 54 other students from Oregon middle and high schools during a virtual Oregon History Day competition, according to a press release from the Oregon Historical Society. The national contest will be held online June 14-20.
Even amid a pandemic, 141 students from across the state came together virtually to participate in Oregon History Day, the statewide qualifying competition for the annual National History Day contest. Fifty volunteer judges evaluated over 70 projects online, inspired by the annual theme of “Breaking Barriers in History.”
Working from home, middle and high school students developed their research projects, in the forms of papers, documentaries, websites, performances and exhibits, persevering through hurdles that the new virtual format presented (for example, students submitting performances had to pivot their projects and provide a written script, including descriptions of settings, characters and costumes, rather than perform in person).
While the virtual nature of the contest created challenges, it also presented incredible opportunities; by removing the barrier of cross-country travel, 100% of Oregon’s qualifying students have registered to present their projects along with over 4,000 students from across the country.
Last year marked the first year that Oregon students placed first at the national contest. Portland high school students Kyler Wang and Alan Zhou impressed judges with their powerful documentary on the history and destruction of Celilo Falls, “Echo on Falling Water.” They hope to defend their title this year, with a new documentary on civil rights activist Minoru Yasui, titled “Breaking the Curfew: The Story of Minoru Yasui,” which placed first in the senior group documentary category at Oregon History Day.
St. Mary’s Academy student Anja Jolin is also looking forward to presenting her paper, titled “Chipping Away at the Bullet Proof Glass Ceiling: Portland Women Breaking Barriers in Policing,” at the national contest next month. When asked why she continues to participate in Oregon History Day each year, she shared: “Oregon History Day has given me the chance to delve into topics that interest me and explore the intricate details and mysteries of historical events. I enjoy connecting local history to broader issues with national significance, such as immigration and systemic gender barriers. Oregon History Day has given me a chance to take my learning outside the classroom and learn about events and people in history and the impact that they have made to society as a whole.”
Other notable entries that will represent Oregon include:
• “Fighting for Change: The Integration of Women in the Armed Forces,” by Evelyn Chen, Flora Huang, and Rachel Wang from Stoller Middle School;
• “Jane Austen’s Impact on Feminism,” an exhibit by Cassady Kirchner, Eva Norman, and Mina Gregg of South Salem High School;
• “Larry Itliong: Overcoming Barriers of Filipino Farm Workers in the Delano Grape Strike,” a website designed by Darsh Mandera, Felix Petteni, Namrata Venkatesan, Sophia Pi, and Wenjun Hou of Jesuit High School.
While students missed the comaraderie of an in-person contest, participants are thankful that the contest was able to continue, providing some sense of normalcy during an otherwise chaotic school year: “In this difficult time, when so many things are being canceled, I am very grateful to Oregon History Day for creating a virtual competition and giving students a chance to showcase their projects,” said Jolin. “While it was disappointing that we did not get to gather together as a community and celebrate everyone’s hard work, having a virtual competition has given me something to work toward and look forward to during this time.”