Tolicia Roberts has learned about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the history of dentures, and the pros and cons of single-sex classrooms during her years at Parrott Middle School.
All of these issues were subjects she studied as part of the history fair the school holds each year.
"It gives you time to learn about the past and the future," the 13-year-old eighth-grader said.
To prepare for this year's theme, "Debate and Diplomacy," Tolicia said she typed in "modern debates" to find an interesting topic.
Parrott Middle's history fair coordinator, sixth-grade social studies teacher Laura Jean Lewis, said the fair is part of a national competition, National History Day, and elementary and secondary schools are invited to participate at local levels.
Winners progress to state levels and then to the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Lewis sees value in history fair participation. "I think it's vital that we know who we are and where we came from," she said. "It's not just to learn about your roots."
Students enter the contest in one of five categories and work individually or in small groups. They have the choice of producing a documentary, an exhibit, a research paper, a Web page or a performance.
Those who are selected in first or second place at the school level are eligible to continue to the district competition at Springstead High School.
The students each begin the project with a thesis. They research it, listing their sources, a process that Lewis explained encourages thought and research skills.
A walk around the media center as the students recently prepared their presentations revealed a diversity of topics. They include the Holocaust, the Salem witch trails, healthy eating, positive use or waste of time, and Dred Scott, a slave in the United States who sued unsuccessfully for his freedom.
Parrott Middle Title 1 educator Kris Noto, who has been assisting with the history fair, noted, "The kids do a lot of work. I think it teaches students about history and prepares them for what is needed in higher education."
Eighth-grader Christina Konieczka, 14, did her project on "Nature vs. Nurture," by studying twins and how they did similar things throughout their lives. She and her teammate, eighth-grader Brittany Clayton, 13, produced a PowerPoint presentation. "At the end we let them (viewers) decide. 'You choose nature or nurture' ," she said.
Eighth-graders Gabrielle Stephens, 13, and Christine Collier, 14, teamed up to study music and teens, calling their project "Music and Misfits."
"A long time ago, (certain) music wasn't allowed," said Christine.
"And parents really didn't approve," added Gabrielle.
"Of teens," Christine finished, the two referring to parents objecting to rock 'n' roll. "A long time ago," it turns out, was the 1950s and '60s.
Having done projects throughout middle school, Christine agreed that the fairs are a good idea, "Because you can learn a lot from history, so history can't repeat itself," she said, adding, "Unless it's good. I've learned a lot doing the history fair from the last two years."
Brittany agreed. "I think younger teens can learn a lot from researching facts and learning what their parents went through," she said.
Debbie Cooper, the media center paraprofessional, appreciates how the history fair benefits the students.
"They learn to research, sort and organize," she said. "Every aspect helps them in their future lives. A couple of them have told me about how proud they are of what they accomplished."