Students are typically eager to bolt for the doors as soon as the bell rings signaling the end of the school day. But last Wednesday, dozens of students eagerly returned to Gulf Middle School's media center that evening to find out if they placed in the school's first history fair.
Amanda Tetso was ecstatic to learn her project, a research paper on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, placed first in the historical paper category. Social studies teacher Cathy Ardizzone bragged on her behalf.
"She wrote this paper at a college level," Ardizzone said. "It's just incredible."
The school-level history fair is a precursor to May 13 when Amanda and 14 other GMS students will compete at the district level. The top two students in each category — historical paper, website creation, backboard exhibits, performance and documentaries — will head to Tallahassee for the Florida History Fair May 5-7.
Amanda is headed to Gulf High School next year, where she'll be enrolled in its rigorous International Baccalaureate program.
Some of the projects, even those that didn't place, showed an abundance of creativity in their presentation. Gifted-program teacher Sarah Anderson was impressed by a project on American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens, the winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin. The students created an Olympic stadium out of cake and Rice Krispies Treats.
Another project used brown and green plastic army men facing off in a Civil War diorama.
Social studies teacher Anthony Johnson said the point was to strike an interest in the students about historical events and have them understand and explain why each event was a turning point in history.
"Some of the ideas they came up with blew my mind," Johnson said. "They really explained how each person or event changed history."
Each project was a culmination of 10 weeks' work. Participation in the history fair fulfilled new state requirements that middle school advanced history classes do in-depth research projects.
Although participation in the history fair is not required by the Florida Department of Education, the Florida History Fair's website states that it meets the many requirements of Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
"Numerous social studies, language arts and arts standards for grades 6-8 and 9-12 can be met when teachers involve their students in the Florida History Fair, the website states.
Students earning top state honors will be entered into the national contest June 9-13 at the University of Maryland.
Ardizzone said the extensive research project better prepares students for high school's advanced placement, IB and dual-enrollment classes.
"The kids are learning at a more dramatic level because of this and it won't be such a culture shock when they get to high school," Ardizzone said.