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Home School and National History Day: Living the Research

By Klye Washut

The past year has been quite an experience for me and for my family. From kindergarten through eighth grade I attended a small, parochial school in Casper, Wyoming. But, beginning the school year of 1999-2000, my family made a radical change. My parents concluded that the best thing they could do for their five children would be to school us at home. This was no small undertaking with the youngest member of our family not yet a year old, and me, the oldest, a freshman in high school. This was the beginning of an amazing year.

I had participated in National History Day during my seventh and eighth-grade years and choose to do so again in 2000 with my best friend Brandon Halvorsen, who is also a home schooler. My former eighth -grade history teacher, Mrs. Jane Medved, agreed to be our NHD mentor. I live more than twenty miles from Brandon, so that left each of us doing our own research, spending a lot of time on the phone comparing information, and taking copious notes so that one could use this or that resource. After discussing our first round of research, Mrs. Medved convinced us to narrow our topic to the persecution and then legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

The NHD research became an integral part of my home schooling. The first year of home schooling is not easy, but I was able to schedule time each week to work on my history project while focusing on my other studies. Then we began to take advantage of the project and tie it in to some of my classes. English now included note taking; literature and philosophy included the ancient Roman and early Christian writers, and in history I could see how my NHD topic was a major turning point that affected other events over the course of time. In civics, Constantine’s declaration of religious freedom, the Edict of Milan, was compared and contrasted with the First Amendment of our own Constitution. Math even came into play in my NHD research, I used algebra to figure out the number of men in a Theban legion.

After the research was finished, Brandon, Mrs. Medved, and I met again to discuss how we would present our research. We decided on a performance, thereby requiring even more meetings than before in order to block, memorize cues, etc. Part of my English class was writing the script, then Brandon and Mrs. Medved critiqued it until we finally had something we could work with. We built our set as part of art class, and practiced lines for drama class.

All of the hard work paid off, and Brandon and I found ourselves participating in the NHD national contest. We didn’t place, but we had a fabulous time. Our parents used the trip to D.C. as a giant field trip, and we gained tremendously from our experience. Now, after two years participating in NHD, I find that I am comfortable with public speaking. The forensics and debate team at a local high school has welcomed this home schooler as a member, and I am doing well.

The effects of our NHD project did not stop there. In August, Brandon and I went with our church group to Rome. In Rome we saw much of what we had researched as it is today. History was alive before me! As I walked along the streets of Rome I realized that history is what we live. And like the Romans before us, our own lives make a history to be explored in the future.

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