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if you ask high school history teacher Allen Andraski how his summer went, odds are he’d say it went pretty well.
The Los Alamos School Board announced in June that the National History Day Foundation, an organization that promotes the learning of history through an annual, national contest, named Andraski as a recipient of the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award.
The NHD Foundation grants the awards to teachers who inspire their students who take an interest in history beyond just what they learn in the classroom, and are encourage to present their findings in the state and national contests the NHD holds annually.
“National History Day firmly believes that quality teachers are the best educational tools that students have,” said National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn through a press release about the event. “The history teachers selected as Behring Award recipients are a credit to their discipline, and exemplify what it takes to truly be a quality educator.”
The contest rules are simple: Students can research a favorite history topic of theirs that complies with the contest theme and enter their findings into a local NHD contest, where hopefully, if all goes well, qualify for the national contest, which takes place at the University of Maryland at College Park, Md.
Andraski said he was selected for his participation in the event for the 10 years he’s been a part of it. A number of students of his have made it into the final rounds of the national contest during those years.
Students can submit their entry either as a 10-minute DVD, a research paper, a website, an exhibit or a performance.
This year, the contest theme was “Rights and Responsibilities.” Three of Andraski’s students, Kim Pestovich, Kaylen Pocaterra and Sarah Criscuolo created a website on the Pentagon Papers, where they used the medium to explore and discuss role of a free press versus responsibility for national security. They received first place in their category. Those interested in seeing their project, log onto 46887250.nhd.weebly.com.
One of the reasons the three students picked the Pentagon papers as their subject is because of current events, said Pestovich.
“When we took U.S. History in our sophomore year, we noted that there was just one line in our textbook about the Pentagon Papers. In reality, it was really a huge turning point in history,” Pestovich said. “We thought it was really strange, especially in light of the current events surrounding WikiLeaks and the NSA leaks (National Security Agency). We thought that it was very interesting that it wasn’t talked about much, especially given that it’s a controversy that seems to happen throughout U.S. history. “
Pestovich noted that it was Andraski that inspired them to take their project to the next level.
“He’s a great teacher, and he was very enthusiastic and supportive of us,” Pestovich said. “He always has an opinion to share with us, and is always excited about students who participate in National History Day, and that excitement is great to have too.”
Andraski gave credit to them as well as to all of his students who took part in the state and national contest. He said to even qualify is not an easy feat, and to do so demonstrates a high level of passion and commitment on their part.
“They were huge projects. Students have to do a lot of research. They have to have documentation for their research, primary sources for their research, and they have to have a lot of all of these things if they were going to go anywhere with their project. I was their coach, mentor, ideas person, cheerleader as well as the person who made sure they were meeting their deadlines,” he said.
Andraski was selected for the teacher of the year award along with another New Mexico teacher, Danya Jones. Each of the teachers also received $500.
Andraski teaches world history and advanced-placement human geography at Los Alamos High School, where he has been teaching since 2001. History, he says, is one the most important subjects a student can learn.
“It gives student a sense of how we got to where we are, it gives students a sense of where we’re headed,” he said. “It’s important they have a sense of where they came from and what people in history have gone through to arrive at where we are today. It basically makes for a basically interesting and well-rounded student.”