Cache Valley students win at state history competition, now prepare for nationals (with audio)

On April 29th eight students from Thomas Edison Charter School South, five students from Thomas Edison Charter School North, and one student from Logan High School placed in the top three in their respective categories at the <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Utah History Day</a> state contest held at the Utah State Capitol. And now, those who finished first or second get to compete at the national level on June 11.

Thomas Edison South history teacher JoLyne Merchant says the state provides very little assistance to schools and students to attend the national competition in Washington, DC.

“They are hoping to get a grant to help the kids some, but they are thinking that might only be about $200,” Merchant says, “which, in relation to all the costs for the kids, is just a drop for what they need.”

Merchant says approximately $12,000 will be needed to help get all of the Thomas Edison Charter School students to Washington. That would cover flights, hotels, and a little bit of their travel expenses while there.

Students are actively asking friends and family for donations and seeking other creative ways to raise funds. The McDonald’s in Smithfield and Hyrum have said they will help. Between 5-8 p.m. on May 24th and May 25th 20% of all sales and 100% of cookie sales will be donated. The school is also working with Kohl’s who has expressed an interest in helping out.

Additionally, the group has established a GoFundMe account, <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>, where people can make donations to help cover the students’ expenses.

Since last June the students have been researching, producing, and refining their projects surrounding the theme “Taking a Stand in History”. Over 6,000 students throughout the state participate in the program every year. For the students at both Thomas Edison Charter Schools, their school-level competition was in December, regionals (which were held at Utah State University) were in March, and the state competition was at the end of April.

Myles Hancock, who placed second in the Junior Group Exhibit for the project “Taking a Stand in History by Breaking the Color Barrier in Baseball” with Marissa Hancock and Dixon Berry, says the students have been refining or adding to their projects after each competition to make them better and better.

“It depends on how much work you put into it at the beginning,” Myles explains. “Last year, we started really small but won at school level then advanced a lot. But every single time you make improvements; some of them can be really small, some can be really big.”

“Sometimes you basically redo your entire board!” Emma Andersen laughs.

About half of the students who competed this year had also competed last year. 

“You definitely know your stuff a lot better and you know how to create your project and manage your time better than you did the first round,” Alyssa Fellows explains.

Andersen and Fellows, both students at Thomas Edison North, not only won the Junior Group Documentary for their project “Frances Oldham Kelsey: Taking A Stand Against Thalidomide”, but they also received the honor of Outstanding Project on the History of Science, Technology or Medicine and a cash prize of $125.

After arriving at the capitol early the morning of the state competition, it wasn’t until later that evening that the students heard the results from the judges. Madelyne Topham says waiting for the results was painful, but also exhilarating. 

“I was sure Myles’, Marissa’s, and Dixon’s project was better than ours,” explains Topham, who competed in the same category as her classmates. “So when they announced them for second place I was like, ‘Holy crap! Who could have beat them?’ And then they announced our project and I was like, ‘What?! How did this happen?!'”

The project by Madelyne, along with her sister Grace, was titled “Mei Quong Tart’s Campaign Against Opium: A Chinese-Australian’s Attempt to Suppress the Importation of an Abused Narcotic Drug to New South Wales” and won first place in the Junior Group Exhibit category.

Kayliann Haslam, who won second place in the Junior Historical Paper for her project “Lucy Burns: Standing Strong with the NAWSA”, says the students are now excited to prepare for the national competition coming up in June in Washington, DC.

“The judges usually give us a lot of things we can work on,” Kayliann explains. “You can also get outside help, too, from our teachers. There were several of us that went to the Winner’s Workshop in Salt Lake. We got some more advice there for what we could do to enhance our project.

“But sometimes we don’t want to because we’ve put so much work into it we’re like ‘I’m done! I don’t want to do any more!’ Especially when a week after the state competition we have to turn our projects in (for the national competition), send them a picture, send them a pdf or they have to have a physical copy of it by a certain date. So that’s kind of what’s hard because right after state you have to rush to get whatever changes you need in.” 

Regardless of next month’s outcome, these students feel like they have gained valuable skills and a greater appreciation for historical figures.

“I’ve learned that it’s incredible how just one person,” says Fellows, “by doing little things, can take a stand on what they believe in and it can change thousands of lives.”

“You find out what people really believed in, they really stood for stuff,” says Marissa Hancock. “The things they went through was really hard for them. If they didn’t really believe in their causes they wouldn’t have done it. It’s really cool and inspiring to learn about these people who have taken a stand for what they believed in.”

“You also learn a lot of research skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” Grace Topham adds.

Logan High student Ben Anderson won first place in Senior Individual Website for his project “<span>Taking a Stand: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Anderson did his project</span> on his own, without the help of structured school and teacher support like exists at both Thomas Edison Charter School locations. 

Merchant says all the students pour in hours and hours of work outside of the classroom for these competitions, and she sees how it pays dividends.

“We have some amazing students here. The work they put into it is hundreds and hundreds of hours of work,” Merchant exclaims. “The first level is an assignment that they have to do. They go past that, they go above and beyond and they learn and grow. The skills they gain are life skills.”

“The research they are doing is the kind of research I was asked to do in college, in my college history courses,” adds Heather Knight, a history teacher at Thomas Edison Charter School South. “These kids are very well prepared for their future education. We are really proud of what they’ve been doing.”

And from a parent standpoint, the students have been very self-motivated to excel with their projects.

“They do it all themselves,” says Maree Berry. “They get together, meet up, say ‘let’s get this project done.’ We don’t do very much, except in the end when we’re trying to do fundraising to get them to DC.”

But some parents are also excited to see the projects finally come to a close.

“I’m just glad it’s almost over!” exclaimed Brant Haslam.


The following is a list of Cache Valley students who placed at the state competition:

<table border=”0″><tbody><tr><td><strong>Place </strong></td><td><strong>Division </strong></td><td><strong>Category </strong></td><td><strong>Title </strong></td><td><strong>Students </strong></td><td><strong>School </strong></td><td><strong>Teacher </strong></td></tr><tr><td>1 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Group Documentary </td><td>Frances Oldham Kelsey: Taking A Stand Against Thalidomide </td><td>Alyssa Fellows, Emma Andersen </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School North </td><td>Jeff Low </td></tr><tr><td>1</td><td>Junior </td><td>Group Exhibit </td><td>Mei Quong Tart’s Campaign Against Opium: A Chinese-Australian’s Attempt to Suppress the Importation of an Abused Narcotic Drug to New South Wales </td><td>Grace Topham, Madelyne Topham </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School South </td><td>JoLyne Merchant </td></tr><tr><td>2 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Group Exhibit </td><td>Taking a Stand in History by Braking the Color Barrier in Baseball </td><td>Myles Hancock, Marissa Hancock, Dixon Berry </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School South </td><td>JoLyne Merchant </td></tr><tr><td>3 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Group Website </td><td>Lili Elbe: Taking a Stand in Transgender History </td><td>Gabriela Bernal, Ian Ferguson, Emi Borecki </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School North </td><td>Jeff Low </td></tr><tr><td>2 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Historical Paper </td><td>Lucy Burns: Standing Strong with the NAWSA </td><td>Kayliann Haslam </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School South </td><td>Heather Knight </td></tr><tr><td>1 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Individual Exhibit </td><td>”Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Fred Rogers Takes a Stand for Quality Children’s Television </td><td>Avery Killpack </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School South </td><td>JoLyne Merchant </td></tr><tr><td>3 </td><td>Junior </td><td>Individual Exhibit </td><td>Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Standing Against the Commander-in-Chief and Demonstrating the Power of the Press </td><td>Tanner Bone </td><td>Thomas Edison Charter School South </td><td>JoLyne Merchant </td></tr><tr><td>1 </td><td>Senior </td><td>Individual Website </td><td>Taking a Stand: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights </td><td>Ben Anderson </td><td>Logan High School </td><td>Independent Student </td></tr><tr><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td></tr></tbody></table><table border=”0″><tbody><tr><td><strong>SPECIAL AWARD WINNER </strong></td><td><strong>Outstanding Project on the History of Science, Technology, or Medicine </strong></td></tr><tr><td>Junior Group Documentary</td><td>”Frances Oldham Kelsey: Taking A Stand Against Thalidomide” by Alyssa Fellows and Emma Andersen – Thomas Edison Charter School South</td></tr></tbody></table>

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