History Day Mom

Ten years ago (or was it eleven?) I began working with Massachusetts History Day.  At the time, I was the Director of Education for the Haverhill Historical Society and thrilled to find a group of amazing teachers and students doing the real work of history. I served as a judge then took over as Coordinator for the Northeast District for a while. Now, I coordinate the judges for the state contest.

This year, I became a History Day Mom, and a whole new aspect of the program opened up to me. I’m not sure I like it.

Usually, on contest day, I work in the judges’ room, field questions and deal with technical glitches. I know what I’m doing; I’m in control. Not this year. Yes, I still coordinated the judges’ information and offered support in their decision making, but I stayed as far away from the Junior Group Website judges as I could. I guess this would be a good time to apologize for my neglect. I didn’t want to inadvertently influence you, and I didn’t want to overhear your discussion.

I was a nervous wreck.

My daughter and her teammates took home the first place medals from the district contest. We went to states with mixed feelings. I warned them that they were now up against the best from all over Massachusetts; the likelihood of coming home with another blue ribbon was low. Still, I couldn’t help but hope.

I gave sideways glances at that judge’s table all afternoon, but they never needed me to answer a question, so I never went close. I asked a colleague to gather their materials to bring to the awards room, so I wouldn’t know the results, because I have no poker face and I would surely give it away.

So, like every other parent at Stoneham High School last month, I was anxious and uncertain; ready to offer condolences or share in celebrations. When the category was called, I felt the butterflies and crossed my fingers.

And, like most of the other parents in the auditorium, I had to offer condolences.

When I give the judges’ briefing on the morning of History Day, I remind them that their job is to disappoint the majority of students they meet since they can only send two projects on to the next level. I make sure they understand the tremendous amount of work that went into every project, and the tremendous amount of hope that is in every student. Seeing my daughter and her friends when someone else was named the winner, that bit of wisdom held new meaning. Yes, the girls were disappointed, but they appreciated the time and interest of their judges and felt like they had a true academic conversation with them. And, they understood all of the judges’ comments and were grateful for the kind words about their project.

Next year, my youngest daughter will be old enough to participate and both my girls are planning to enter. Let me give my apologies in advance to whatever team of judges I have to avoid next year. Whatever you decide, we all appreciate your thoughtful and constructive comments.

— Laura Lamarre Anderson



  1. junecoutu says

    I really enjoyed your article, Laura. I, too, worked in the judges’ room for many years. Although I had no children involved in the contest, I did have many students who also hoped to walk out as winners. But unlike you, I didn’t have the self-discipline to wait for the public announcement. Many times I went to the ceremony knowing I had winners and trying to convey that to the nervous kids. Naturally, they never gave me a second look. Although I don’t get to judge anymore, I would encourage everyone to give it a try. Teachers often complain that they feel isolated in their classrooms; what better way to get out, meet other teachers, engage with students from around the state, and get new ideas for your classroom. I always felt regenerated and eager to get back to my classes.
    June Coutu

  2. Bruce Appleby says

    Laura, I really enjoyed your article and appreciate what you have to go through waiting for the results. As teachers, we too have to wait for the results and keep a positive attiude with our students. But since I haven’t had students in the contest since 2001, I can relax and truly enjoy the various projects and still be amazed at what they create. I do wish more people would get involved in History Day since it is such an uplifting experience. Also, I wish the news media would give these students more press since they deserve it. Finally, Laura, you do a gareat job as coordinator of the judges and your briefing is always right on target. Thanks for all you do!!!!

  3. Bruce Appleby says

    Laura, yours was an insightful essay. As a former History Day Teacher and current judge at Districts, States and Nationals, I can appreciate the anxiety that parents go through as their sons/daughters are being judged. It must be even worse if you are working the contest as Laura does and are so close to the talley room. However, she does a great job in staying away from her daughter’s judges. I know it must be eating her up. However, in her judges’ briefing, she always emphasizes to the judges that our job is to encourage the students and be as positive as possible. A smile goes a long way. It is always essential to let the students have the last work in the interview process. We must remember that this is their project and they should rightly be proud of their effort. History Day is without a doubt the best program for students to exhibit their research skills as well as their creative talents. The more schools and students that get involved, the better the Program is. My advice to young and veteran teachers, look into this History Day Program, try it out, and get revitalized. It’s a great experience.

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