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Congratulating National History Day

Rep. Chris Van Hollen

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate National History Day, a year-long academic program focused on improving the teaching and learning of history for 6th to 12th grade students, for receiving a 2011 National Humanities Medal presented on February 13 at the White House by President Obama. Inaugurated in 1997, the National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. I am proud to recognize National History Day as the first K 12 education program that has received this honor ``for sparking passion for history in students across our country.''

National History Day is a program that can be integrated into any social studies or history classroom, as it helps teachers expand and enrich the existing curriculum. With schools spending more resources and time focusing on reading and math education, it is important that we also recognize and support programs that help to provide a well-rounded education that raises the bar for students and strengthens the instructional practice of teachers.

In every state and in hundreds of communities around the country, National History Day affiliates work with classroom teachers and students who choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. In my own state of Maryland, the Maryland National History Day program is sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council. Last year about 19,000 students from 158 different middle and high schools participated across the state at the local, state and national levels. The program is an outstanding example of outcome-based and performance-based learning.

I am also proud that each June students travel from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories to participate in the culminating four-day event held at the University of Maryland at College Park where professional historians and educators evaluate their projects. Attending the National History Day national contest where students are working in groups as well as individually to make history come alive is truly a unique experience. Each student is able to become an expert on a chosen topic while they further develop college- and career-ready skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and oral and written communication. More than 5 million students have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine and countless other disciplines where they are putting into practice what they learned through National History Day.

As legislators, we are all interested in promoting increased student achievement and a deeper understanding of the impact of history on our everyday lives. For 30 years, the National History Day program has been transforming the way history is taught and learned in classrooms all over the country improving education every day.