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WMS sixth graders advance to National History Day competition

Woodbury Middle School sixth graders RJ Altman and Ryder Sitcawich might soon be making history through their love of history.

Altman and Sitcawich placed second at the National History Day's Minnesota regionals competition, which was held May 1 at the University of Minnesota.

By placing second, Altman and Sitcawich will next advance to the national finals, which will be held this June at the University of Maryland.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen," Altman said, "but it sounds pretty fun."

"It's almost like a dream," Sitcawich said.

Altman and Sitcawich will be competing with about 6,000 students from around the country.

National History Day

National History Day, which began in 1974, is an interdisciplinary research project that uses history as the vehicle to engage students in history through individualized learning.

Students select a topic based on the different theme each year. This year's National History Day theme is "Exploration, Encounter and Exchange."

After selecting a topic, students research their topic and then create either an exhibit, a website, a documentary or a performance.

WMS held its National History Day Showcase on Feb. 25.

For their topic, Altman and Sitcawich researched the Bank War and Jacksonian democracy.

The Bank War

When thinking about what topic to choose for their National History Day project, Altman and Sitcawich knew they wanted something to do with politics, but not necessarily something well known.

"We both have a passion for politics and presidential stuff," Sitcawich said, "but we didn't want to choose something so obvious like the Civil War or something like that."

History teacher Allissa Bagley gave a list of some possible topics to her students, which included the Bank War, which is how Altman and Sitcawich ultimately decided on their topic.

"I like learning about something I've never learned before," Altman said, "and I didn't have a clue about this."

Bagley said she was shocked when Altman and Sitcawich said they wanted to research the Bank War.

"I don't think they've ever even learned that in any of their years of school," she said. "I found that so intriguing."

Through their project, "I will kill it ... Jackson Encounters the Second Bank of the United States," Altman and Sitcawich looked at the conflict between Andrew Jackson and the Second Bank of the United States.

In 1833 Jackson initiated a campaign to destroy the bank.

"It was a topic that not a lot of people knew of," Sitcawich said, "but it still had a huge effect on the economy."

For their project Altman and Sitcawich looked at website, books, databases and even conducted interviews with scholars of the topic.

"These boys did an incredible amount of research," Bagley said. "I think it was the fact that they found different perspectives on the topic that gave them an edge.

"Also, they brought their topic to the modern time and they showed the cause and effect that history has throughout our lives."

Preparing for nationals

Altman and Sitcawich have already started preparing for the National History Day competition by locating additional sources and improving their project.

The boys have even reached out Andrew Jackson's estate.

Altman and Sitcawich will be working with the Minnesota Historical Society to improve their project.

"It's been a really cool journey for all of us," Bagley said.

At the national competition, Altman and Sitcawich will be competing for a medal and a cash prize.

"And the fame and glory," Bagley said.

Altman and Sitcawich said that participating in National History Day has been a great experience because it has given them a lot of new skills including researching, communication, how to work together and how to evaluate information.

Altman and Sitcawich said the best part of National History Day though is being able to study history.

"Anything has a history with it," Sitcawich said.

"History back something that really mattered," Altman said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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