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AMS students headed to D.C. for National History Day

March 3, 2013

Armstrong Middle School student Mugeni Lukongo shows history teacher Joshua Pankey different elements of her National History Day Exhibit, "Historical Perspective of Socioeconomic Impact of Stennis Space Center." Lukongo won second place at the state level in the "Junior Individual Exhibit" category, earning a trip to Washington, D.C. for the national competition. (Photo by Nicole Thomas, SSD)

Twenty-five hundred words were not enough for Bradley Curtis.

An eighth grader at Armstrong Middle School, Curtis wrote a paper for Mississippi's National History Day (NHD) competition on John F. Kennedy's "Man on the Moon" speech. He said he was no stranger to NHD — this is third year to compete, and he placed third nationwide last year — but he still found shaving 300 words off his NHD research paper to be the most challenging part of writing it.

"I had to cut some here and there. That was tedious," Curtis said. "I really like when you've put all the work in, and you get your final product and you see what you've done. It's a really cool experience. You learn a lot of things in NHD that you would not learn in middle school otherwise."

Armstrong Middle School students took multiple honors at the state NHD competition Feb. 23, winning the junior-level NHD quiz bowl and sending six projects and the students who worked on them to the National History Day Fair in Washington D.C.

Curtis took second place in the "Junior Paper" category, right behind first place winner William Paul Ellis. Clay Turner took first place and Mugeni Lukongo took second place in the individual exhibit category. Shanika Rae Musser and CiCi Zhang took first place in the "Junior Group Website" category. Finally, Kensley French and Hannah King took first place in the "Junior Group Exhibit" category. All eight of these AMS students will attend the national competition.

Curtis also won the Spirit of National History Day award, and all AMS participants collectively earned the Top National History Day Middle School in Mississippi award. Last year, Curtis said, his project focused on William Wilberforce's abolition of the slave trade in England, but his last trip to NHD's national level inspired him to try something new.

"Last year at nationals, when I was at the Smithsonian, I saw the Museum of Space Flight, and I got turned on to the history of space flight," Curtis said. "The theme for this year was 'Turning Points in History,' and I saw JFK's 'Put a Man on the Moon' speech as a turning point."

To research his paper, Curtis said he used Mississippi State University library books and microfilm, as well as online journals, but he did not limit himself to what he could find locally or online. He said he also contacted the Stennis Space Center, NASA, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the Naval Aviation Museum, each of which sent him extra sources.

Joshua Pankey, a history teacher at AMS who coordinates the school's NHD participation, said NHD's goal is to increase awareness of history's importance across the nation. He said it also teaches students research skills that are well beyond their years. For instance, he said, many middle school students turn to Wikipedia when they need to research something, but NHD students learn early on that Wikipedia is off limits.

"They're doing college-level research, and they're in junior high," Pankey said. "A lot of the students are ... using microfilm. I didn't even learn to use microfilm until I was in college."

Where Curtis has been part of NHD for the past three years, seventh grader Mugeni Lukongo said this was her first year participating, and she still won second place for her exhibit, "Historical Perspective of Socioeconomic Impact of Stennis Space Center." NHD exhibits resemble science fair exhibits, but they are six feet tall, and Lukongo's exhibit was brimming with information.

"The Gulf economy is kind of interesting, and I like space, so I was interested in it," Lukongo said. "I hope to get first place at nationals."

Eighth grader Hannah King, another three-year NHD veteran, said she originally planned on taking a year off from NHD, but her mother suggested she work with fellow student Kensley French on a project about criminal profiling. King said she and French both like the TV show "Criminal Minds," but what they discovered in their project was different than the work shown on TV.

"TV really glorifies it, but there are some really hard times to it," King said. "I liked doing the research, especially with documentaries, hearing first-hand what actually happens to people, because it's their stories."

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