National History Day at Capital City Public Charter School
Doughnut holes and orange juice jugs cover the table. Chairs set in neat tight lines cover the floor. The background of the stage is painted with colorful murals from the latest school play. The entire setting looks perfect, orderly.
But what happens next in the multi-purpose room of Capital City Public Charter School is not so expected, or orderly. It’s radical.
Four groups of eleventh graders in Mr. Julian Hipkins history class presented their entries for the National History Day competition. Three of the four groups produced film documentaries and the fourth group a display board, with all of the groups placing at the citywide competition. On June 10, 2011 the groups presented to members of the board of Capital City, teachers, students, and family members. Teaching for Change’s Executive Director Deborah Menkart and summer Truman fellow Chelsea Caveny were pleased to attend as well.
Whether documentary or display board, all the presentations brought light to issues in history that are overlooked or often washed with simplicity. The students made it clear that these issues are far from simple.
In the presentation about the Civil War in El Salvador, group members Illeana Benitez, and Linda Nguyen Dalila Rodriguez admitted how difficult the issue is to address because some people they interviewed sided with the guerillas while others supported the military.
Ana Marie Jose, Jared Perez and Jonah Best took the audience on a thrill ride with a documentary about Christopher Columbus. The students compared what most textbooks teach as a version of hero worship of Christopher Columbus to the actual history as described in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and other sources. Teaching for Change Associate Director Allyson Criner was one of the interviewees featured in the film. View the film.
Madison Leathers, Asia Simms and Kevin Winestock created a documentary about the Joseph McCarthy pushed paranoia of the 1950s.
The final documentary about gentrification highlighted the interconnectedness of capitalism and gentrification. Student filmmaker Nelson Cruz responded to questions after the film and argued for the need for affordable housing.
This group of eleventh graders pushed the boundaries of what many expect as traditional history and in a room filled with doughnut holes and orange juice, they broke the mold.
Written by Chelsea Caveny, Truman fellow and Teaching for Change 2011 summer intern.