By Touchstones Roving Reporter

On January 24, Touchstones’ Executive Director, Stefanie Takacs, and Advisory Council member, Randy Cover, stepped temporarily into entirely new roles— as judges. The Mount Washington School, which has just started to implement Touchstones discussion programs, invited both Takacs and Cover to participate in the school’s sixth annual History Night. The judges were assigned seven student exhibits to evaluate independently, given a rubric for their evaluation, provided a tasty dinner, and sent on their way to the school gymnasium. After completing their assignment, Takacs and Cover would have to share their individual ratings and come to consensus on the top two projects to recommend for the state-wide competition. The final, national-level competition will be held June 9-13, 2019 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Although both judges have significant experience with adolescents, neither were quite prepared for the very lively and exciting event awaiting them in the gym. Individually, the adults visited with each student or pairs of students to hear how students had selected their topics, what types of research and sources they had used, how they had evaluated the merits of those sources, and what conclusions they had drawn from their work on the project.

This year, the National History Day theme is Triumph & Tragedy and students are required to demonstrate in their final product—in this case, exhibits of poster boards and trifolds—how their subject conveys both triumph and tragedy. They are judged on the historical quality of the information they present, the clarity of their presentation, and the relation of their content to the overall theme. Both judges were expected to interview each student or pair of students and evaluate the information and organization of the students’ physical exhibits. Each interaction included feedback from the judges to the students about strengths and weaknesses in their projects.

Our two impartial judges had their work cut out, but there were two pairs and one solo student whose work showed a thorough examination of information, use of primary sources, and passion for their subject matter. One of those projects explained the AMBER alert system and the tragedy underscoring its genesis, and one pair of seventh graders chose Bonnie and Clyde for their project. They relied heavily on FBI and court documents for their information and offered interesting analyses of why the nefarious duo stuck together to the bitter end. Another pair of students wowed our judges with their thoughtful examination of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. They focused on how that event led to massive changes in aerospace safety and how it still shapes that industry today. We’re looking forward to hearing how the students do in the next round of the competition and wish them (and their teachers and parents) good luck!