At a time when many people seem obsessed with the trivial - Exhibit A, the bevy of so-called reality TV programming - it's exhilarating to see Helix students excel in the National History Day project.

Five high school students placed first or second in the recent state competition with documentaries they produced about inspiring individuals who took stands on important issues. In doing so they qualified for the national competition at the University of Maryland in June.

While many people are obsessing over phony millionaires and backstabbing castaways, these Helix students have been delving into issues like civil rights and equal treatment of women. Their documentaries have titles like "A Place at the Counter: Sit-Ins for Civil Justice."

The Helix five were among nearly 300 National History Day competitors statewide. More than 2 million competed around the country.

National History Day began as a single day nearly 25 years ago in Ohio and has expanded into a year-long event. It's designed to bring history to life for students in grades six through 12, focusing on issues ranging from the Holocaust and the Civil War to the Constitution and African-American history. It "does for history what the science fair does for science," Helix teacher Darrick Cope says.

There's so much to be learned from history. One lesson is that every generation, every person faces challenges and trials. And that in the face of those trials, there are always people willing to put decency, justice and fairness ahead of convenience, ignorance and bigotry. It's what gives the human race hope.

If students can learn that, education has done its job.

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