FARMINGTON — For many middle and high school students, history is not always the most popular subject.

One annual competition, however, not only gets students involved in history, but engages them to the point where many become passionate about their projects and, as a result, become passionate about history.

National History Day provides an opportunity for students to make history come alive through hands-on projects and presentations. On Monday and Tuesday, more than 200 students from middle and high schools throughout the Four Corners region, and from Los Alamos schools, gathered at San Juan College for the Northwest Regional National History Day competition.

The first, second and third place winners will proceed to the state competition, which takes place in Albuquerque in late April.

The top two in each category at that competition will go on to the national competition at the University of Maryland in June. Cash prizes and scholarships are some of the awards given during the state and national competitions.

National History Day begins in the classroom, where students are asked to pick a project coinciding with a yearly theme. Students can work individually or in groups. Project categories include dramatic performance, website, documentary, exhibit, or research paper.

This year's National History Day theme was "Turning Points in History." Some of the projects focused on well-known historical turning points such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Trail of Tears and the moon landing, as well as some less conventional topics such as the history of the refrigerator and the impact of the Woodstock music festival.

Not all students are required to complete a National History Day project, but some teachers do make the competition part of their regular curriculum.

Susan Boyles teaches gifted and high-level language arts students at Hermosa Middle School, and is also one of the coordinators for the regional competition.

Boyles requires all of her students to complete a National History Day project, and requires that they also complete a research paper on their subject.

She said the research experience they obtain gives them skills that help them in high school, college and beyond.

"This is such a valuable experience for the students, because they are required to complete all the research on their own and complete an annotated bibliography which adheres to required standards," said Boyles. "The research is done evenly and they pick it up really quickly."

Boyles has seen students who were previously uninterested in learning become passionate about their National History Day projects, and become better students.

"I had three students who were so uninterested in learning, but after becoming excited about their National History Day projects, they became straight-A students and are now doing very well at Navajo Prep," said Boyles.

Part of the appeal for students is that they get to not only choose which category of presentation they would like to work on, but which subject.

Heights Middle School students Mariah Vargas, Lauryn Adair and Kelyn Hollingsworth dedicated their exhibit project to the Titanic.

"We really like National History Day because we get the opportunity to choose whatever project we want," said Vargas.

Added Adair, "We all watched the movie, and we wanted to learn what the true facts were about the Titanic. We learned a lot about how the Titanic (disaster) was a turning point in safety regulations for ships."

Heights students Domic Hines and Grant Bessey turned their love of baseball into a project entitled "Breaking the Color Bar in Baseball".

"We really had fun with it, because we've been playing baseball for eight years, and thought this subject would be interesting," said Hines.

Margie Sartin is co-coordinator of the regional competition, and also serves as the librarian at Piedra Vista High School. Sartin said that by the time middle school students who have been competing in National History Day get to high school, the research experience pays off.

"These students really know how to do research, and participating in this also helps on college applications. This kind of thing is what a lot of colleges are looking for," in potential students, Sartin said.

Interestingly, National History Day has led to some even more significant contributions. 

Barry Bradford, a history teacher from Illinois, had three students who decided to do a documentary on the 1964 killing of three civil rights workers. The 1988 film "Mississippi Burning" was based on this case. The information they exposed while researching for their project resulted in the murder indictment of Edgar Ray Killen, a reputed Klansman.

For yet another National History Day, some rural Kansas students decided to research the story of a Polish Catholic woman who saved Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. The woman's story was mostly unknown until the students developed the Irena Sendler Project, producing their dramatic performance entitled "Life in a Jar." The drama has been performed over 285 times across the United States, Canada and Poland.

"All of the National History Day students work totally on their own on these projects, and it's pretty amazing to see these kids competing and cheering on history," said Sartin. "Those that put out the effort to become involved in this are pretty amazing students."

This year's winners of the Northwest Regional competition are (by category):

Paper:

First place: Mia Eisenfeld, Mesa View M.S.; Breanna Sehorn, Los Alamos H.S.

Second place: Luke Myers, Heights M.S.; Isadora Renner, Piedra Vista H.S.

Third place: Antonio Dowdy, Chamisa Elem.; Eric Paige, Los Alamos H.S.

Individual Website:

First place: Miriam Wallstrom, Los Alamos H.S.; Kristina Schwab, Piedra Vista H.S.

Second place: Sydney Schumacher, Mesa View M.S.

Third place: Zoe Hemez, Los Alamos M.S.

Group Website:

First place: Michael Sabol and Saul Chavez, Mesa View M.S.

Second place: Karyssa Garcia and Meghan Romero, Chamisa Elem.

Third place: Hunter Wiggins and Cole Cranston, Mesa View M.S.

Individual Exhibit:

First place: Stella Sandel, Mesa View M.S.; Sabrina Tornow, Piedra Vista H.S.

Second place: Jacob Martin, Pueblo Pintado; Anne Scripsick, Los Alamos H.S.

Third place: Divine Kickingbird, Hermosa M.S.; James O'Brien, Los Alamos H.S.; Tsaa Henderson, Farmington H.S.

Group Exhibit:

First place: Ryan Schaffer and Vincent Gomez, Hermosa M.S.; Kimberly Pestovich, Yamira Dejesus and Kaylen Pocaterra, Los Alamos H.S.

Second place: Sam Christensen and Joshua Sam Lucas, Heights M.S.

Third place: Emily Marchetti, Alyssa Smith and Dennah Barnes, Hermosa M.S.

Lauryn Adair, Kelyn Hollingsworth and Mariah Vargas, Heights M.S.

Individual Documentary:

First place: Saxon Tornow, Heights M.S.; Devon Conradson, Los Alamos H.S.

Second place: Evin Martinez, Heights M.S.; Emily McClenahan, Los Alamos H.S.

Third place: Abraham Ribota, Hermosa M.S.; Dallin Stokes, Los Alamos H.S.

Group Documentary:

First place: Hugo Gutierrez, Ricardo Serrano-Smith, Hermosa M.S.

Second place: Alyssa Baker, Rachel Carlson and Elizabeth Johnson, Hermosa M.S.

Third place: Grant Bessey and Domic Hines, Heights M.S.

Individual Performance:

First place: Samantha Dewees-Keller, Hermosa M.S.; Justin Lemke, Los Alamos M.S.; Levi Myler, Piedra Vista H.S.

Second place: Anna Lemke, Chamisa Elem.

Third place: Sophia Sivils, Los Alamos M.S.; Briana Logsdon, Hermosa M.S.

Group performance:

First place: Ruby Selvage and Kathryn McClenahan, Los Alamos M.S.

Second place: Cecilia Dean and Alice Irvin, Hermosa M.S.

Third place: Christina Meechan, Holly Woodside and Julia Beer, Hermosa M.S.