The Montgomery County Historical Society touts the National History Day Contest as a “fantastic opportunity” for middle and high school students “to learn about history while practicing their research and critical thinking skills.”

Ah, but competing in this annual competition involves so much more than that.

There are also plenty of lessons in the social-emotional skills that educators say are just as critical for success in today’s workforce: learning how to collaborate, to solve problems, and to delegate responsibilities.

And, just as importantly, how to be proud yet humble if you win and disappointed yet gracious if you don’t.

Both of my daughters have participated in the National History Day Contest as part of the curriculum of the Humanities magnet program at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring.

Eastern is one of several county public schools whose students participate in the competition; private schools and home schooled students also compete. At Bullis School in Potomac, for example, all high school juniors taking U.S. History or AP U.S. History and sophomores studying Europe and world history are required to produce projects for the competition.

It’s an experience that I wish all county students could have—even after twice shepherding a child through the hours of work over several weeks that the competition requires to produce a project dependent on the type of research expected of college students.

Lisa Vardi, chairman of the Bullis history and social studies department, summed it up best when she announced Thursday night the names of students who would be moving on to the county competition.

“The process students experienced is invaluable and [helped] them grow, regardless of their future field of study: traveling down a path you believe will be fruitful, realizing that it is not, getting frustrated, starting over again, and asking more questions to get the answers,” she said. “I witnessed my students doing history and growing.”   

This year, the county historical society will hold its Montgomery County History Day competition on March 16 at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. On that day, hundreds of kids will present projects—including research papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries and websites—on this year’s theme: “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.”

They’ll be competing for the chance to be selected by a panel of judges to move on to the Maryland History Day Contest set for April at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Winners will compete in the National History Day Contest to be held in June at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Like the students at Bullis and Eastern, many will already have gone through a rigorous judging process at their own schools, competing with fellow students for the chance to move on to the county competition.

April Bryan, the county historical society’s education coordinator, has served frequently as a judge and now coordinates the society’s competition.  She’s impressed by the content of the projects and the students’ skill at presenting their ideas—just more evidence that there is no downside to kids participating in National History Day.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by the content that these students are getting into. I’m so excited by the level of experience they’re getting. They’re learning about research, primary source use,” she said. “When I imagine these students getting ready for college, for that first English class, they’re going to be so far ahead.”

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at