U.S. History Essay Contest Awards Nearly $4,000 in Prizes to MA High School Students

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Five secondary school students and one high school recognized as part of initiative to encourage stronger instruction in history and civics 

BOSTON – Five Massachusetts high school students have won awards totaling nearly $4,000 as a result of their participation in Pioneer Institute’s Frederick Douglass Essay Contest in U.S. History, which called on entrants to research and write about historical texts and the responsibilities of citizenship.

“We’d like to congratulate the winners and thank the judges of our inaugural U.S. history-civics student essay contest for their excellent work,” said Jamie Gass, Pioneer Institute’s Director of the Center for School Reform. “Given that a working knowledge of U.S. history is the prerequisite for full participation in our democracy, we’re very pleased that the contest attracted such high-quality essays.”

Thirty-three students participated, representing 20 public, parochial, and private secondary schools across Massachusetts. A panel of judges carefully read the essays and selected 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners as well as two essays meriting honorable mention. The winners and their schools are listed as follows:

  • 1st Place: Dakota Foster, Middlesex School
  • 2nd Place: Charlotte Grove Reynders, Pingree School
  • 3rd Place: Domenic Narducci, Franklin High School
  • Honorable Mention: Magdalene Stathas, Dracut High School and Mehitabel Glenhaber, Commonwealth School
Pioneer Institute Congratulates Frederick Douglass U.S. History Contest Winner Dakota Foster, pictured (center) in front of the Old State House with Contest Judge Ellen Nye (Left), and Pioneer's Director of the Center for School Reform, Jamie Gass (Right)
Pioneer Institute Congratulates Frederick Douglass U.S. History Contest Winner Dakota Foster, pictured (center) in front of the Old State House with Contest Judge Ellen Nye (Left), and Pioneer’s Director of the Center for School Reform, Jamie Gass (Right)

The 1st place prize was $2,500, the 2nd place prize was $750, the 3rd place prize was $500, and two honorable mention winners were awarded $100 each. Students were given the option to redeem the awards in the form of cash or scholarship. In addition, a $1,000 prize was granted to the top entrant’s school. Contest brochures were distributed to all Massachusetts secondary schools in September 2013.

The contest was open to U.S. citizens who attend school in Massachusetts and who were enrolled in high school during the 2013-2014 academic year. Entrants were required to submit essays of no more than 2,000 words, responding to a prompt about the origins of citizenship and its evolution in American history. Detailed contest guidelines were displayed on the program brochure and website (ACommonSense.org). Students were expected to analyze important historical documents to develop an evidence-based argument using strong research and writing skills.

The independent panel of judges included:

  • Roger Desrosiers, retired Millbury High School history teacher,
  • Ellen Nye, Dartmouth College graduate, and
  • Robert Pondiscio, Executive Director of CitizenshipFirst, a civic education initiative based at Democracy Prep Public Schools in Harlem.

The Frederick Douglass Prize in U.S. history and an interactive website developed in 2013,ACommonSense.org, are part of a Pioneer Institute initiative to revive U.S. history and civics instruction in Massachusetts. Despite a 2006 promise to place U.S. history on the MCAS exam, required for high school graduation, Massachusetts high school students do not have to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history or civics to obtain a diploma.

Pioneer Institute has actively promoted rigorous, content-based academic standards that include U.S. history and civics instruction, publishing two reports on its neglect in public schools and hosting numerous events featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. historians and nationally-recognized experts.

In 2014, Pioneer held events on women in history and literature, featuring New York Times bestseller Cokie Roberts and Zora Neale Hurston biographer Valerie Boyd, and on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, with Civil Rights activist Robert P. Moses and Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Taylor Branch and Diane McWhorter.

Past speakers have included other Pulitzer Prize-winning historians and noted scholars: Dr. Gordon Wood of Brown University, Dr. James McPherson of Princeton University, Dr. Joan Hedrick of Trinity College, Dr. Jack Rakove of Stanford University, Dr. Howard  Dodson of Howard University, Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. of the University of Virginia, as well as presidential historians Jeff Shesol and Willard Sterne Randall.