A team of Buchanan High School students recently placed second at the annual National History Day contest in College Park, Maryland.
Matthew Clark, Austin Cozzi, Kelsey Ewing, Sydney Fox and Allison Hodge — all of whom will be juniors in August — arrived at June’s national competition as the California state champions in the Senior Group Performance category.
National History Day, established in 1974, calls on students to research, analyze, interpret and draw conclusions about a historical topic of their choice as it relates to an annual theme, then present their findings in a project. In the state of California, and in Clovis Unified, students as young as 4th grade may compete. Only middle school and high school students, however, are eligible to advance to the national level. More than 3,000 students across all divisions and categories participated in this year’s national event.
This year’s theme was “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.” The Buchanan group, coached by Alta Sierra Intermediate teacher Debbie Hodge, won the state competition on the strength of their performance, “American Exodus: The Oakies’ Exploration, Encounter and Exchange in the San Joaquin Valley.” In taking their California-oriented performance to the national competition, they made some changes to make it more universal.
“Our biggest focal point was ensuring our local state topic could reach a national audience,” said Clark. “We made sure we connected the plight of southwestern migrants with that of modern-day migrants. Connecting to current happenings is essential in all projects. Explaining the history is one thing — showing why it’s relevant is a whole different story.”
Their gamble paid off. Despite some changes to the way teams advanced, the Buchanan team was one of 10 teams to reach the final round of competition, where they emerged as fan favorites.
“A lot of other groups watched our performance this year, more than any previous years,” said Fox, who competed in two previous national competitions. “They would come up to us afterwards and tell us how much they enjoyed our performance.”
Ultimately, a team from Georgia took top honors. But the Clovis kids were thrilled with their placement.
“The experience we had this year was like no other,” said Allison Hodge. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine coming in second place at Nationals. Even though it was a lot of work, we still enjoyed the process.”
“We came out and did our thing,” added Cozzi. “I never had any doubt in our team.”