Education Committee Assists Student with 2014 National History Day Project

Photo: Seventh grader, Mary Jo Dalsin, from New Prague, Minnesota, at the National History Day Competition in Washington, D.C., with her 3rd place medal in the junior individual documentary division for her video on the Japanese American Internment during World War II. Photo credit: Emily Dalsin.

Every year the Twin Cities JACL Education Committee receives requests from students who are participating in the National History Day competition. The requests include using resource materials from the chapter’s extensive collection, oral history interviews, or advice and feedback on their projects.

National History Day is a year-long academic program focused on historical research. Students work individually or in groups conducting primary and secondary research around an umbrella topic. The theme for 2014 was Rights and Responsibilities in History. This year about 600,000 students, 6th–12th graders from across the United States, America Samoa, Guam, International Schools, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe and Asia participated in the competition.

Over the past several years the Twin Cities JACL has had students win awards at the local, regional, and state level, but not until this year has a student received an award at the national competition held in Washington, D.C. In June, Mary Jo Dalsin, a 7th grader at St. Wenceslaus School in New Prague, MN, about 40 miles from the Twin Cities, was awarded third place in the junior individual documentary division for her 10 minute video titled, “Japanese Internment: Rights, Responsibilities, and Reparations.” She interviewed TC JACL Education Committee chair, Sally Sudo, for inclusion in her documentary. “It is always interesting to see how students are able to incorporate the Japanese American World War II experience into the History Day theme,” stated Sudo. “The TC JACL heartily congratulates Mary Jo for her efforts and fine work.”

Mary Jo’s mother, Emily Dalsin, describes her experience during the national competition as follows: “Each student is given a 20 minute timeslot for presenting her project. Documentary students begin their presentation by giving each of the three judges a written 500 word essay on their topic and an annotated bibliography. The judges read the written information, and then the student plays her ten-minute documentary. After the documentary ends, the judges interview the student. The interview/ question portion of the program takes about 5 – 7 minutes during which the student is quizzed on many aspects of the project. During the interview, MJ was eloquent and educated. She answered the judges’ questions thoughtfully and with poise. We had been working with her all week to get her ready for the interview portion of the competition. I thought I had come up with every possible question, but I was wrong. At the end, one judge asked, ‘Where do you come down on this issue? How should the line between government responsibility for national security and citizens’ rights be drawn?’ My heart started beating a mile a minute. I didn’t even know if MJ had ever considered how she felt about this issue. She knew how others felt … but had she ever considered her own opinion? When she spoke, I almost fell over. She was clear, articulate, and thoughtful. She could have been a college freshman, not a 12 year old little girl as she spoke to her judges. I was beyond impressed! At that moment, I understood the strength of the NHD program. My kid was the expert, and she was telling a story that she knew inside and out. She kept the judges’ attention and provided details that I didn’t know she knew. I was so proud!”

View Mary Jo’s award-winning video below.