In January, Akiba-Schechter launched History Fair, a Middle School-wide program it holds every other year. History Fair is part of a national program called National History Day (NHD). All across America, schools are giving students the opportunity to become historians: to dig deeply and investigate a topic of their choice and then present their findings to a national audience. Students spend over three months learning how to research, analyze primary and secondary sources, and build an argument based on evidence. They confront questions of significance, credibility, perspectives, change, context, and impact. At the end of this research journey, students produce exhibits, documentaries, performances, papers and websites and present them in a series of contests. In studying the history of their community, students learn how decisions are made in the social, cultural, economic, and political realms that affect their lives. On Thursday, March 23, Akiba-Schechter will hold its school-wide History Fair. School winners will advance to the city level. “As a teacher,” says Mindy Schiller, History Fair Coordinator, “History Fair is personally rewarding in so many ways. Just last week, I had the opportunity to take three of my students to the UIC Special Collections archive. This was a trip that they initiated and which took place after school hours. I watched them put on white gloves so they could handle 100-year old archival documents and sit face to face with brittle, cracking pages, decoding handwriting from a personal letter from Eugene Debs to his brother, in touch with history, feeling the magic of discovery and being an independent investigator.” Two years ago, Akiba’s second time participating in History Fair, 7th grader Shira Friedman-Parks was one of 70/10,000 Illinois contestants to advance to the national level in College Park, MD. Shira’s project, a website on the Josephine Cochrane, the inventor of the dishwasher, stemmed from her innate interest in women scientists. She followed her passion, not knowing where it would lead, and was able to teach our entire school community about a little-known woman who pushed back against the stereotypes of women in science in the 1890’s. As a national finalist, Shira spent a week with students from all across the country—equally passionate about history, in dorms on a college campus—and was able to connect with others who shared her love for learning. This was a once-in a lifetime experience, one Akiba was proud to be able to help bring to its students. The theme of this year’s History Fair—taking a stand—is especially meaningful to us as a Jewish school. Part of Akiba’s mission is that students learn how to be upstanders, that they gain the tools to be independent decision makers, leaders, and meaningful contributors to society. The concept of being an “upstander” is embedded in the school’s common vocabulary, and a core part of the Humanities and Jewish Thought course curriculums. “We’re thrilled to be able to compete alongside the best students in the nation,” says Schiller. “We know our students are awesome. But now everyone else knows it, too.”

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