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History Day Nationals: Students receive high honor

Isaac Sheard, left and Blaze Geiger, in front of their National History Day project, which took fourth pace at Nationals this year.

FAIRMONT — Two eighth-grade students from Fairmont Area Schools, Isaac Sheard and Blaze Geiger, recently received a great honor when their National History Day project placed fourth at nationals.

The theme this year was breaking barriers in history. Sheard and Geiger’s topic project was Breaking Barriers in Space: Apollo 11.

The boy’s social studies teacher, Claire Theobald, said it’s very rare to have a student go to nationals. Less than 1 percent of students make it to nationals, let alone place in the competition.

Two years ago, Fairmont student Lilly Steuber went to the national competition. Last year, no student advanced that far.

“With the pandemic and everything, I really wasn’t expecting anyone to make it to nationals. I knew the boy’s project was amazing and they worked really hard on it, but with everything being virtual, I had no idea what they would be up against,” Theobald said.

Once stay at home orders were put into place, libraries were closed, people they would typically interview were working from home and they could only find office or work numbers so accessing information for their project was a challenge.

“The ingenuity that students had to track down people during the pandemic was phenomenal,” Theobald said.

Theobald said Sheard and Geiger put over 300 hours on their project.

All Fairmont students in 7th and 8th grade do a project for National History Day. They began working on the project in late October and they were displayed and judged locally in February.

The boys were able to work together on the project until mid-March, when the district turned to distance learning. Since then they had been communicating through emails and phone calls while working on their project.

“I had not seen them since March. We did a lot of Zoom calls and phone calls,” Theobald said.

Sheard and Geiger were chosen to progress to regionals, which were to be held in late March, but because of the pandemic, they were held virtually. The boys then advanced to the virtual state competition, where their project took first.

Typically, students competing at Nationals would fly out to Washington, D.C for the competition, where they would stay for a whole week, going on tours and preparing for the event. Students from all over the U.S and U.S territories would be there but the entire event was virtual this year.

“I’ll always wish I could have gone to D.C, but it was still fun,” Sheard said.

The national competition was the week of June 14. Projects were judged that week and the award ceremony was on Saturday, June 20.

Sheard said team Minnesota was on a Google Meet call together when winners were announced. Both boys were surprised.

“Getting state at first, which nobody from Fairmont had ever done felt good. I was hoping we would place at least top 10 at nationals. I was in shock we got 4th, I couldn’t believe it,” Sheard said.

“I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I’ve never had a student place this high,” Theobald said.

While there was no cash prize for fourth place, Sheard says he believe this will greatly impact their future.

Sheard has always liked history, but said he worked so hard on this because he would like to be an aerospace engineer in the future. Greiger said he’s had an interest in Apollo 11 and wanted to learn more about the topic.

When asked what stood their project apart from other student’s, Geiger said he credit that to their sources, which included a Harvard professor, a SpaceX employee and a former astronaut.

“Those were really neat. To contact and talk to them and hear their experiences was really cool,” Geiger said.

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