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Local students advance to nationals in history contest

Performing in "The Rambling House," from left, were Lillian Riddle, Callie McCall, Landon Pierron, Katy Sue Malt and Katherine Grady. Performing in "The Rambling House," from left, were Lillian Riddle, Callie McCall, Landon Pierron, Katy Sue Malt and Katherine Grady.

Several students from two local homeschool programs advanced to the national level of competition in the 2021 National History Day Contest.

An annual event, the contest invites students to select a topic related to the theme and create a project in one of five categories: documentary, website, exhibit, performance or paper. Students began competition at the regional level (coordinated by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources) and then advanced to state and national levels if awarded first or second place. This year's theme was Communication in History: A Key to Understanding.

National History Day fosters skills in research, writing and communication as it requires all entries to develop a product, an annotated bibliography and then to defend their work to a panel of judges. Some parts of the process were adapted this year to comply with Covid-19 restrictions.

Classical Scholars, a middle homeschool cooperative based in Mills River, created three projects this year and one of them, a junior group performance, won 2nd place in the nation and a $500 prize.

"There’s No Place Like Home: How Military Carrier Pigeons Provided a Vital Means of Communication During World War I," is a junior group performance presented by Campbell Hodge, Ava Karis Renegar, and Kerrigan Wankel. Although many believed modern technology, such as radio and telegraph, to be superior forms of communication, military carrier pigeons would prove the most efficient means for understanding the conditions and needs of troops during World War 1, saving thousands of lives. The team interviewed a local pigeon fancier, David Velez.

Two documentaries were also created:


  • "Comics At War: How Superheroes Were Used to Communicate American Virtues and Foster Patriotism Starting With World War II," a junior group documentary created by Jonah Hardin, Kyle Malt, Jeremy Owens, and Mark Walton. In the midst of a war being fought on foreign shores, comic book superheroes communicated a sense of hope to the American people leading them to understand their role in the war effort. By creating relatable characters big enough to defeat enemies Americans faced, not only were war bonds sold, but the next generation would be influenced by their patriotic ideals of “Truth, Justice, and the American way.” The team interviewed Dr. James J. Kimble from Seton Hall University, as well as a local comic book collector, Brad Rogers. Comics at War qualified for Nationals.
  • "For Truth’s Sake: How the Library Company of Philadelphia Communicated an Understanding of Our National Identity Through Shared Knowledge Provided by Access to Resources and Books Throughout the Country," a junior group documentary created by Kate Johnson and Jenkins Cowan. The Library Company of Philadelphia, was a public library founded by a group called the Junto Club. The common desire to advance knowledge for the benefit of mankind knit together an imagined community which transcended religious and political divisions and its leader was one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. The team interviewed James Green, librarian at The Library Company of Philadelphia.


Great Expectations, a high school homeschool cooperative, also based in Mills River, created four projects. One of them, a senior group performance, was awarded a coveted prize that celebrates Irish history and grants the recipients a cash prize or airplane tickets to Ireland. The two performance groups, both of which qualified for nationals, were:

  • "The Rambling House: How Irish Storytellers Communicated History to Preserve and Understand Culture," a senior group performance presented by Katherine Grady, Katy Sue Malt, Callie McCall, Landon Pierron and Lillian Riddle. Throughout centuries of repression, Irish storytellers communicated their culture and fostered historical understanding for future generations. Stories provided an essential form of societal communication for the Irish, and it became their key to understanding. The team interviewed an Irish storyteller and a local author and storyteller, Pepper Basham.
  • "Sweeping the Clouds Away: How Sesame Street Understood the Importance of Diversity and Communicated it to our Youngest Citizens," a senior group performance presented by Isaac Brown, Selah Grady, Cyrus Hardin, Ashley Jarrett and Hayla Smith. In 1961, 98% of American homes had a television, prompting the chair of the FCC, to issue a challenge to the “lords of television” to do better. Young children all across the world were plugged into these impressionable devices. However, in 1969 a new concept in children’s television programming was introduced. Sesame Street communicated social issues through relatable and diverse characters and for over 50 years has been deliberately populated with the most racially diverse cast that public television has ever seen, communicating a better understanding of each other and our world. The team visited the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta and interviewed the curator regarding the role of Sesame Street in children’s television.

And two documentaries were also created:

  • "Universala Unuiganto: How Ludwik L. Zamenhof Created Esperanto to Globalize Communication and Achieve International Understanding," a senior group documentary created by Leyla Belk, Grace Kushigian, Amy Malt and Lauren Wilkie. Language is the primary form of communication for all humans which makes Esperanto a solid choice for this year’s theme. International communication was essential in the 19th century and L.L. Zamenhof's unique language, Esperanto, was the key to transcend political, religious, and cultural boundaries. Esperanto was not designed to replace national languages but to be a second language for the world. This team of students conducted interviews with Princeton University professor and author Esther Schor; historian, author, and professor at Princeton University Michael Gordin; and the current representative of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) to the United Nations, former president of the UEA, and translator, Dr. Humphrey Tonkin, and met with local documentarian, Paul Bonesteel. The documentary qualified for nationals.
  • "Three Dead Americans: How a Photograph Won WWII By Communicating the Casualties of War and Deepening American Understanding of Homefront Morale," a senior group documentary created by Andrew Renegar and Landon Stepp. The team interviewed Benedict Cosgrove, former editor of, and Dr. James Kimble, of Seton Hall University, whose talk on battlefield death and censorship greatly influenced the script, and visited the Veteran’s Museum of the Carolinas which had a set of LIFE magazines, including the issue with this image. When this photo appeared in 1943, there had been no images of our battlefield dead for over 40 years. The three Americans, lying dead on a foreign shore, shocked the American public out of complacency and back into action buying bonds, collecting scrap and giving blood. One photograph, powerful and revealing, and published in the most circulated magazine of the time, communicated sacrifice and increased understanding of war.