Rayawna Holland, Rylee Fuson, Sawyer Frye and Savannah Frye stand in front of their history project.

Rayawna Holland, Rylee Fuson, Sawyer Frye and Savannah Frye stand in front of their history project. (Submitted photo)

Four middle school students from Pineville created a history project that earned the top prize in Kentucky and gave them the opportunity to showcase their work at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Institution in Washington, D.C. in mid-June.

Rayawna Holland, a rising eighth grader at the Page School Center, says it is not every day that middle school students get the opportunity to present their work at a national level.

“I was very honored that they chose us because not many people from Kentucky get chosen,” she said. “I was so grateful.”

Holland and her classmates Rylee Fuson and twins Savannah Frye and Sawyer Frye created their project: Ain’t I a Woman?: Sojourner Truth’s Fight for Rights for National History Day in Kentucky, an annual learning competition for students in grades 4-12.

National History Day in Kentucky is like a traditional science fair, but with projects that empower students to express themselves through a historical topic they are passionate about.

“I think National History Day is such a valuable program because of the excellent skills that it teaches students as they move through school and into careers,” said Ashley Buzzanca, the National History Day coordinator in Kentucky. “The importance of that is starting to be recognized by students, teachers, and parents which is really exciting to see.”

For this year’s contest, students were required to research topics related to the theme: Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas.

The four Bell County students chose American abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

“When we were researching and found Sojourner Truth, we had actually never heard of her. Everything we read in our research was new to us,” said Sawyer Frye.

As a former social studies teacher, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said National History Day is a great opportunity for students to dive deeper into history through project-based learning.

“When students are able to engage in learning that is deep, rich, authentic and meaningful, it is something they will carry with them through the rest of their lives,” Glass said. “This is what we mean when we talk about vibrant learning experiences.”

Vibrant learning experiences is one of the three big ideas of United We Learn, Kentucky’s vision for the future of education in the Commonwealth.

The Bell County students’ detailed research helped them form a thesis on why Truth was a frontier in history.

“She was a gifted speaker and we wanted to represent that, so we made (the project) in the shape of a podium with her sitting on top like she’s speaking, and it spins around to show the information on all four sides,” said Frye.

Page School Center social studies teacher Pam Miracle was the team’s sponsor, and has sponsored students in the contest for the past six years. Miracle is also the recipient of the 2022 National History Day in Kentucky teacher of the year award.

“The project is a progression. It’s a very detailed process, so it just keeps getting better as they go along,” said Miracle.

After competing against other counties in their region in March, the students progressed to the statewide competition along with 226 other students. The state competion was held at the University of Kentucky on April 22.

From there, the Bell County students advanced to the national contest and their project was chosen out of all Kentucky competitors to be presented in the Smithsonian.

In June, they traveled to College Park, Maryland, where the national competition was held and presented their project, along with 48 other student-produced projects from across the country. Their exhibit was then featured at the Smithsonian.

“It was really neat,” Sawyer Frye said. “We stayed there all day and got to talk to a lot of people and other (National History Day) students, and getting to explore the Smithsonian was a big deal, too.”