STRONG — Students at Strong Elementary School are getting a boost preparing for National History Day competition from social studies teacher Crystal Polk, one of three from Maine chosen for graduate studies in history.

As part of the honor, Polk may travel to Europe to visit many of World War I battle sites and historical repositories. 

“My grandfather was in WWI,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to know more about it myself.”

Nov. 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.

Students in grades five to eight are creating projects that address a wide range of topics relating to world, national or state history and the past’s influence on current events. It’s part of the annual contest by the nonprofit National History Day organization in College Park, Maryland.

The organization’s 2019 theme, Triumph and Tragedy in History, challenges students to develop their critical thinking, problem-solving, research and reading skills.


Polk said her colleague Wendy Morrill encouraged her to apply for the National History Day graduate studies program to further her education and offer more learning opportunities for her students.

While doing her graduate studies after school and on weekends, she and colleagues Morrill and Candace Dunham will be guiding students in fifth through eighth grades to prepare for National History Day regional competitions in January 2019 in Lewiston and Orono. Finalists will go on to the state competition in April.

“In addition to what we’re doing in our regular social studies classes, Candace, Wendy and I are collaborating, so that across grade levels, students are in groups,” she said. “They are doing individual and group research connected to the Triumph and Tragedy theme.”

One student is studying Cornelia Thurza Crosby, also known as “Fly Rod” Crosby. Born in Phillips, she became the first registered Maine guide in 1897. She also traveled and wrote for national newspapers and magazines, promoting Maine as a travel destination in the early 20th century.

Polk said other study topics include the WWI restrictions on German immigrants and the community of Shakers who cared for war orphans.

National History Day’s monthly webinars have introduced her to new topics that enhance her students’ learning experience. One book, “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers,” tells the story of America’s first women soldiers who operated the military’s communication systems in Europe and helped win WWI.

The Maine affiliate of the National History Day organization is the Margaret Chase Smith Library and Museum in Skowhegan. John Taylor is the state coordinator for the national organization and provides the three Maine teachers with resource materials.

For information about the Maine National History Day program, contact coordinator John Taylor at the Margaret Chase Smith Library, or 207-474-7133.

Three teachers from Strong Elementary School confer with John Taylor, Maine coordinator for the nonprofit National History Day organization. From left, Crystal Polk, Wendy Morrill and Candace Dunham are working with social studies students in grades five to eight on National History Day projects for a regional competition in 2019. (Valerie Tucker photo)

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