Educator dives into past during elite National History Day program

Helen Drake, a special needs educator at Mahaffey Middle School, works on her thesis paper for National History Day’s summer professional development program. She was one of only 98 educators selected to learn and then teach about primary sources.

Helen Drake spent much of her summer in the past so the Mahaffey Middle School Student educational support aide can help students prepare for their futures.

Drake was one of 98 educators selected by the National History Day Program to take part in its summer professional development program.

The new course highlights and explores digital resources available through the Library of Congress to develop and support historical augmentation.

Drake plans to take what she learned to help students who participate in Mahaffey’s NHD club, an after-school program she started last year. The club’s aim is to teach participants how to find primary sources to support research and write good theses while also establishing research, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“The great thing about this program is learning how to use primary sources and learning how to show students how to use primary sources because in this day and age you can get on the internet and read something and they’re like, ‘this must be true,’ but where did it come from,” Drakes said. “A lot of it is learning just because you have something, or you have a great idea, you may not find the primary sources to back that up.”

Although Drake is certified to teach, she is not a teacher at Mahaffey but does teach English as a second language remotely to students in China.

“I work with special education students, but my background is in history,” she said. “I have a bachelor’s in history. I decided I wanted to go into education, so I did my master’s in education.”

Drake applied for the NHD professional development program to help maintain her teaching credentials in case she decides to return to full-time teaching.

Through the NHD professional development program, Drake connected with educators across the world and worked on a research project of her own. Her thesis examines how the press in the early 1920s may have influenced how people thought of Andrew John Volstead and how that impacted the election in 1922 that cost Volstead his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“What I’m looking at is how newspapers during that time period had displayed his actions, displayed how people felt about him and if it played a role in him not being reelected in the congressional election of 1922,” Drake said. “I find this very interesting going back through the old newspapers and seeing even just different writing styles.”

Volstead’s name is often associated with the National Prohibition Act of 1919.

Drake said the NHD professional development program taught her skills she looks forward to sharing with students.

Through the program Drake learned how to search the Library of Congress as well as state archives for primary sources. She also learned how to critique students’ work, especially when it comes to relating the thesis back to the theme.

“I really took this course to help the students in that club be successful because at the end of the day, NHD is an amazing program on learning how to research on a scale they will need in college – and just even in life, researching which car is better to drive.” Drake said.” It’s also prestigious.”

The work it takes to develop a project for NHD club competition may show colleges that an applicant is not afraid of hard work, she said. There is scholarship money available for many participants competing at the national level in Washington annually.

Drake is hopeful the Mahaffey NHD Club will be successful as it is ideal for social distancing.

“Students can choose one of five projects, they can choose a documentary, a paper, an exhibit, performance and website,” Drake said. “They can do one of those projects, singularly or as a group, can be judged as a junior which is middle school down, and then seniors are eligible for college scholarships.”

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