TJ Elrod Wins National History Day Prize

The freshman earned the “Best Use of Maps as a Primary Source” prize from the National History Day competition in Massachusetts.
West Roxbury, Mass.  Last month, freshman TJ Elrod felt a special sense of pride when he took home his National History Day contest prize. His inspiration for the project  which took home the award for the competition’s best use of maps as a primary source  occurred well over a year before he began.

Last July in Warsaw, Poland, to be exact.

For 10 days last year, TJ and his family had travelled to Poland on a family vacation. TJ, then a rising 8th grader at Catholic Memorial School, said the trip proved a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore his interest in World War II. So, during their stay in Warsaw, his parents took TJ to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, where a photo of nurses helping Polish soldiers grabbed TJ’s attention.

“That to me was the picture of the uprising,” TJ said.

“It was a citizen’s duty to help one another and everyone was involved: children, mothers, fathers, everyday people.”

The image remained fresh in his head when he returned to school months later. The image also made it an easy decision for him to choose a topic for National History Day (NHD) in Ms. Barbara Flynn’s 8th grade "History of Boston" course.

The theme for the 2020 contest was Breaking Barriers, and TJ said he couldn’t have thought of a better topic than the Warsaw Uprising.

“[My project] was such a perfect opportunity because it was all about breaking barriers,” TJ said.

“Those who participated in the uprisings saw it as this opportunity to break the barriers of Nazi oppression, so, to me, I couldn’t have found a more perfect topic for the theme.”

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society, Massachusetts History Day is the state affiliate of the National History Day (NHD) competition sponsored by the University of Maryland. More than 6,000 students in grades 6-12 enter the state competition each year. And, each year, students from the 8th grade History of Boston course at CM submit their own projects to the contest, a requirement that Ms. Flynn, a member of the History and Social Studies Department, added to the curriculum seven years ago.

After selecting a topic, students must consult primary sources to write a research paper and then create a documentary, exhibit, performance, or website based on their research. According to TJ, Ms. Flynn provided him with the research methods needed to find as much information about the Warsaw Uprising as possible.

[Ms. Flynn] was the woman who helped me get all the information, tie it together to the theme, and explore presenting the information in a really appealing way,” TJ said.

“Without her intuitive process, it would have been a lot more of a clunkier presentation and much less interesting.

TJ created his own website displaying the maps of the uprising, using the source information he had gathered earlier. Using captions to identify the position of insurgents, TJ presented an innovative, tech-savvy way of broadcasting his love for World War II history.

“It was fantastic to see [TJ] get so excited about a topic,” Ms. Flynn said.

“NHD usually has a sample of listed topics. But I love it when students go off on their own. It makes them more invested in the project and trains them to think outside the box.

When TJ submitted his project in February, his website garnered plenty of attention. The Boston Public Library's Norman Leventhal Map Society nominated the project as one of its top candidates for the best use of maps as a primary source prize awarded by National History Day.

Months later in early August, TJ received the maps prize, joining several other CM students to receive awards from NHD in 2020. Those additional prize recipients included Jialin Chen, who won first place in the junior division for his website on the Space Race, and freshmen Declan Smyth and Daniel Gaffney, who both earned the National History Society’s prize for Excellence in a Project on Maritime History.

I'm really proud of the way my students performed in the contest this past year,” Ms. Flynn said.

I’m even more excited to see what this year brings. The one positive that has come out of this pandemic is that we’re more on board with technology than in years past. That gives us so much more room for creativity.”

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Catholic Memorial, the Christian Brothers School of Boston, prepares boys for college, manhood and a world full of unknown challenges, ambiguity and complex problems and the importance of relationships.

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