Diana's friend and coworker Katie needed some volunteers to help judge History Fair entries, as part of Milwee Middle School's participation in History Month celebrations, so I agreed. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I figured it wouldn't be too bad!
Over the week, she brought me a stack of essays to read. The grading instructions boiled down to "always find something positive to say" and "remember these are junior high kids" while selecting the essays that best stuck to the theme of "important people and their impact on today". Most of the essays I read (a dozen or so in total) did a good job of selecting someone famous, but many didn't strongly tie in their impact on today's society. The other major criteria was a bibliography containing various numbers of sources (I sorta glossed over that figuring the other judges would pay more attention).
On the morning of the fair, I showed up and noted the setup. The library (er... Media Center as they are apparently called today) was split into a few areas for the different categories: multimedia, websites, essays, and the cafeteria stage was used for displays. Multimedia and websites?! Good to see the relentless march of technology. :)
Anyway, the two other essay judges and I went into a small side room, where we interviewed each of the students individually. This wasn't meant to be grueling, but some of the kids seemed really nervous or outright terrified. Our questions were straightforward, things like "what gave you the idea for picking this person", "what was the most interesting thing you learned" and so on. After chatting a bit, the kids all relaxed as they got excited talking about their essay. We had a range of historical figures, from Knute Rockne and Elvis Presley to Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie to local figures like Henry Flagler.
After wrapping up and selecting the finalists, I got a tour of campus courtesy two of the students: Anita and Courtney. They were in 8th grade and had an entry in the Displays category. They were either on the yearbook staff, friendly with Katie and the other teachers, good students that were looking to duck out of a few more minutes of classes by showing me around, or all of the above. In any case, they were really helpful and fun to talk to, as I thought back to my junior high school days.
I realize all the students I saw today were among the best at the school, hence they were participating in the contest. School-wide finalists would advance to compete in a county-wide competition to be held in a few weeks, and from there I suppose there will be a state-wide one. I gathered from Katie that the History teachers all assigned the essay topic to their students. Hey, sounds like reasonable arm-twisting to me! After grading the essays, making comments and suggestions for improvement, the students that came back and worked on their essays more were eventually tapped for the fair.
Katie bought door prizes and made Certificates of Appreciation for everyone. I was happy since I won two bags of Starbucks Coffee.