Pleasant Valley Middle School student wins silver medal at National History Day Finals

8th grader Colton McCallPleasant Valley Middle School eighth grader Colton McCall came away from the 2020 National History Day Finals this summer with a silver medal. He placed second out of 100 national finalists competing in the Junior Individual Performance category, which also came with a  $500 prize.

McCall incorporated the voices of indigenous people in his silver medal-winning performance, “Breaking Barriers to Restore 1855 Fishing Rights.” McCall’s research project creatively showed how the 1855 Yakama Treaty guaranteed the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes land and fishing rights. After a century of conflict, Native Americans’ rights were restored thanks to two landmark court cases: the Belloni Decision in 1969, and the Boldt Decision in 1974.

McCall interviewed tribal members and staff at the main office of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) that was created in 1977 as a direct result of these court decisions. CRITFC gave the four tribes co-management of the Columbia River fishery that included enforcement, hatcheries, and fish biologists. 

“Colton’s project did well because he gathered primary sources to support his thesis and wove a clear narrative aligned to the theme,” said Rene Soohoo, history teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School. “To have achieved so much success against such strong competition is truly something to be proud of.”

National History Day is a dynamic program that encourages students to become historians by developing research, analysis, presentation and social skills. Students select a topic related to an annual national theme and work individually or in groups to conduct extensive historical research using primary and secondary sources. This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers in History.” Based on this theme, the students developed projects such as research papers, performances, documentaries, websites, and more. 

More than half a million students from across the United States and territories participate in History Day each year, but only a few thousand are invited to compete in the National Contest. This year in Washington State alone, more than 2,000 students entered a History Day regional contest, but only 65 were chosen to represent Washington state at the national competition. 

McCall was one of three Battle Ground Public Schools students to qualify for the National History Day Finals after a top finish in the state competition. Reagan Lund, a ninth grade student at Prairie High School competed in the senior division of the Individual Website category with his project “Japanese Americans Breaking Racial Barriers During World War II,” and Gabriel Vu, an eighth grader at Pleasant Valley Middle School competed in the junior division of the Individual Website category with his project “Agent Orange: Contaminating Americans and Vietnamese.” Only the top two finishers in each category advance to the national finals, which are typically held each June at the University of Maryland in College Park, just outside of Washington, D.C. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s national competition was held virtually. 

The National History Day organization and its state affiliate, Washington History Day, provide leading-edge training and curriculum materials to help educators meet and exceed education standards. 

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