Tuesday, June 16, 2015

120 Miles Each Way.

June 6, 2015.  The Salutatorian congratulated by two of her biggest NHD fans.
We entered the room at the University of Maryland at precisely 2:15. We were the entourage;  mother, father, sister, great-aunt, grandmother, NHD coach, 2 former teachers, and a principal, all there in support of the achievement of one of our own.  It's the big time, national stage competition for National History Day, and Jenna was there to represent Donegal High School and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the Individual Website category with her project on Clarence Jordan.  The judges raised some eyebrows as they greeted us in the hallway; apparently unaware of the power of a single enthusiastic student and her project, drawing in so many near and dear to her.

But, as I've said before, this is the power of Project Based Learning in general, and National History Day in particular.  Since September -- and probably before that -- Jenna has been affected on a deeply personal level by the work of Jordan, the founder of Koinoina Farm and father of Habitat for Humanity.  She visited the farm during a missions trip a couple of years ago, and never really shook the dust of the place off her feet.

Her research took her deep into the Cotton Patch Gospel, written by Jordan, which is also widely read by former President Jimmy Carter.  Who, by the way, typed out a letter on his own typewriter in answer to a letter sent to him by Jenna last October.

The judges noticed that letter on her website, and were seriously impressed.  It was they who told those of us in attendance that this was an unusual letter, given that it was typed, and not generated by a computer response, as President Carter is known for typed responses.  

I wish I could tell you more about the competition, or regale you with tales of the exhibits.  The reality is we traveled today to support a single student who exudes excellence.  The exhibit hall was closed for judging.  We spent hours on the road, and traveled more than 250 miles in the process.  We watched a student masterfully answer questions from judges for 15 minutes, fighting back tears of pride, because it was entirely evident to everyone present that Jenna's life has been changed by the power of this project.

And ours as well.

Awards will be handed out on Thursday, and I will be watching the online video stream, hoping for one more celebration moment with the recent graduate.  But, as the judges reminded her, no matter what happens in this competition, she has this research, this connection, and this knowledge which will take her far into her future educational endeavors.

They're so right.  And they don't even KNOW that she changed her major from Physical Therapy to Peace Studies because of her research.   Those of us in the entourage know, and couldn't be more proud.