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Two Northern Michigan Teachers Nominated for ‘National History Day’ Teacher of the Year

History Day

“Within the educational community, the people are sort of born to it. It just sort of comes naturally for some people.”

For Traverse City’s Mr. Brent McCall and DeTour Village’s Mr. Russell Norris– two social studies teachers in Northern Michigan,
It really has a new meaning this year.

“I was excited but at the same time I was almost humbled by the idea, am I really the most deserving of this? Because I know and I’ve worked with teachers that are in the district and outside the district, that just do so much,” says McCall.

McCall and Norris were nominated for National History Day teacher of the year, representing the state of Michigan.
McCall teaches social studies at Traverse City East Middle School.
Norris teaches high school social studies at DeTour Arts and Technology Academy in the U.P.

“I think this is about our 11th year that we’ve been doing History Day. For me it’s an opportunity to promote a program that I really like. It really aids me as a teacher. It’s been a phenomenal resource, it benefits the kids,” says Norris.

McCall says, “It allows me to get them thinking critically about like if you were there, if you had to make this choice, letting them explore some of the historical voices.”

The National History Day contest recognizes a history or social studies teacher that’s really committed to engaging students in active learning.

DeTour students Sophia DePaul and Calvin McCloskey created a project on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“A lot of teachers make History Day optional or they don’t focus on it as much, our teacher definitely makes it a big part of our school year. A lot of times in class, you don’t dive into topics as deeply as you would if you weren’t researching for History Day,” says DePaul.

McCloskey says, “It gives us A huge opportunity to learn about something that you are interested in.”

Principal Marshall Perkins of Traverse City East Middle School shares his thoughts, “I think our program here is, hands-on activities that really encourage kids to create metacognition, which is the idea to create meaning for themselves.”

Each year, national history day focuses on a historical theme, giving students an opportunity to create projects around that theme.
This year focused on ‘Debate and Diplomacy.’

Norris says, “A lot of them did things like issues of race. The one on the Cuban Missile Crisis happened before even the Ukrainian invasion, and it just seemed like, wow they’re really onto something. They connected the present and the past.”

McCall shares, “A lot of students tend to choose topics like women’s rights movements, Abolitionist Movement. Some students like to stick around the time period of the creation of the Constitution.”

But being nominated for Teacher of the Year, it’s so much more to Mr. McCall and Mr. Norris.

“Sometimes social studies seems to take a second, back seat to English and math, and science, but in my mind schools are really set up to educate people to be citizens…and prepare them for their careers and for college,” says Norris.

McCall says, “Social studies is, yes it’s geography, yes it’s history, yes it’s politics and government and things, but at the root of social studies, it ‘s really the study of people and understanding human beings.”

And one thing– from each teacher– that every student should remember…

McCall says, “One thing that I think that’s important to be engrained in all students, whether it’s looking at social studies or not, is always considering ‘what is your perspective?’ but also ‘what’s the perspective of others?'”

Norris says, “I talked to students about this a lot, you know you’re living history. You’re witnesses to history right now.”