Oak Creek A pair of Soroco Middle School students are making history with history, and have a chance to compete on the national stage next month near the nation’s capital.
It all started in the fall in middle school teacher Dan Kohler’s seventh- and eighth-grade history classes, where students are required each year to pick a history topic, research it and create a project under National History Day’s annual theme.
The University of Maryland in College Park puts on the national competition, creating a new historical genre each school year for students to engage in regionally and statewide in hopes of making its final competition in June.
The topics can vary, from “Revolution, Reaction and Reform” to “Debate and Diplomacy.”
This year’s theme was “Rights and Responsibilities in History,” a broad enough topic that Kohler worried students would latch onto the obvious choices, events such as the civil rights movement or the Holocaust — suitable topics, but not unique enough to catch national judges’ eyes.
But seventh-grader Truman Anarella and eighth-grader Ben Kelley wanted to go a different route. The pair’s respective families enjoy deep outdoors backgrounds, so instead of picking the obvious choices, they incorporated decades-old national legislation with their love for Colorado’s wilderness to create a documentary about the Wilderness Act of 1964, a groundbreaking law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that legally defined “wilderness” in the United States and protected millions of acres of federal land.
And this year marks the act’s 50th anniversary.
Kohler said he had his middle school history students compose research papers individually in the fall, an idea he hoped would get them to dive deeper into their projects. Truman and Ben, having written papers on a similar topic, joined forces to enter SMS’ own National History Day competition on campus.
The teacher said about 90 projects were entered in the school’s show, and students were able to decide whether they wanted to enter the subsequent regionals at Summit Middle School.
Pinned against middle-schoolers from Aspen, Eagle County and Summit County, Truman's and Ben's 10-minute documentary, “The Wilderness Act of 1964: The Right to Experience, the Responsibility to Protect,” took first place out of 275 other projects.
“They took first place at regionals and went on to state,” Kohler said. “At state, they competed against kids from all the districts, like Front Range, Denver, big schools. To place there, they have to get first or second in their categories.”
Truman and Ben notched their names in the middle school’s history books, taking first place at state in Denver to get a bid to the national competition next month.
So, what is it about the pair’s documentary that made them the first students from Soroco Middle School to reach the national level?
“We think the documentary captures the beauty of the wilderness the best,” Ben said, noting the film took nearly 300 hours to complete on Truman's MacBook software.
“I hope people can appreciate the wilderness and the hard work we put into this film,” Truman said.
But Kohler said their national recognition comes from hours of dedicated work and the drive to create a project that went above and beyond what was expected. The two interviewed professionals, enthusiasts and hiked into the Trappers Lake area to grab original footage.
“This has been amazing,” Kohler said. “It’s probably the highlight of my teaching career. It’s a huge deal, and I’m so proud of them.”
As for the national competition, which begins June 15, Truman and Ben aren’t as concerned with winning as they are with sharing their ideas with other students from across the United States.
“I just want to enjoy it at this point,” Ben said. “I just want to go to nationals and see all the different projects.”
“We put in so much work, a lot of time on the computer editing,” Truman added. “Now it’s time to enjoy it.”
Kohler said the school has pledged a small portion of the travel costs for the group to get to Maryland, but a Facebook donation page also has been set up to raise the nearly $5,000 it will cost to ensure Truman and Ben get their shot at competing.
“We’re the first from this school, ever,” Truman said. “We were so excited. Everyone was just really, really excited for us. This is intense competition.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll
The Wilderness Act of 1964: The Right to Experience, The Responsibility to Protect