February 22, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
Christina O'Connor, a Hingham High School history teacher for the past 19 years, is pleased to be among the 15 educators who applied for, and were chosen to participate in, a partnership between National History Day and the Library of Congress to create a valuable new classroom resource.
Over the next several months, O'Connor will be part of a team of educators from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin who will work directly with NHD and Library of Congress staff to write and test a series of five student guides based on the five NHD contest project categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website. NHD will distribute the guides online once the work is completed.
"I'm excited about this opportunity to work on this project with educators from around the country with different perspectives, ideas, and experiences -- to uncover resources that will enhance our classroom experience, to work on a project that will refresh our spirits -- especially during such a difficult year [due to COVID-19-related challenges] -- and to build a network of teacher colleagues who can learn together and share what we've learned," O'Connor said.
National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn had this to say about the Library of Congress project in a press release: “Ms. O'Connor and her fellow contributors bring many years of classroom and project-based teaching experience to this endeavor. Through this new series, these teachers will showcase the Library’s primary source collections for the benefit of National History Day students for many years to come. We are grateful for this opportunity to work with the Library of Congress as creation partners for this important project.”
O'Connor teaches 11th grade United States History at Hingham High School and also two courses -- a seminar on World War II for seniors in the fall and a U.S. government class on American political systems for juniors and seniors in the Spring.
When she arrived at HHS as a new teacher in 2002, students were already participating in National History Day. "Since then, the program has been greatly expanded, and we've grown our local partnership with the Hingham Historical Society," O'Connor said. Hingham High School is proud of the number of students who have won awards in the contest.
Original research on historical topics
The NHD program was established in 1974 and currently engages more than half a million students every year in conducting original research on historical topics of interest.
Projects compete first at the local and affiliate levels, where the top entries are invited to the national contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The study guides will help students craft their NHD projects, assisting them in finding, analyzing, and integrating primary sources from the Library of Congress into their NHD projects and will be the newest addition to the wealth of materials provided by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium for educators in the United States and around the world. As part of her work, O'Connor will undergo advanced virtual training with the Library of Congress and its TPS partners.
"Participating in this program 'forces' our students to become historians," O'Connor said. "An important part of their work is to learn how to access, analyze, and use primary resources in their work and to seek multiple perspectives, which helps them develop life skills."
History is the study of people, "through which teachers and students alike discover how our past connects to the present and informs and creates the world we're living in today," O'Connor said. "The more we can explore the individual records people have left behind in history, the richer our experience."
She expressed appreciation for the support of Hingham Public Schools K-12 Director of Social Studies Andy Hoey over the years.
Hoey in turn praised O'Connor's accomplishments, noting that this is the fifth highly-selective NHD professional development program for which O'Connor has been chosen within the past six years, and that she was also the Massachusetts nominee for the Patricia Behring NHD Teacher of the Year award in 2016.
"To be selected for even one of these honors would count as a 'once-in-a-career opportunity,' so this is a testament to Christina's extraordinary talents as an educator and her commitment to the NHD program," Hoey said. "She is a passionate and dedicated teacher who imbues her love of history to her students, and she truly embodies the qualities promoted by National History Day."
Through NHD O'Connor has participated in several professional development opportunities, including the Understanding Sacrifice and the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute programs.
"Now this year, I am really honored to be part of the NHD partnership with the Library of Congress to write guides that will help students use these collections as they craft their National History Day projects," she said.
O'Connor can't speak highly enough of National History Day. "Not only is it a wonderful opportunity for students to build their historical thinking skills and foster curiosity about the field, but NHD as an organization is also tremendously committed to giving teachers opportunities to grow their knowledge and teaching practices," she said. "My work as a classroom teacher at Hingham High School has been directly benefited by National History Day -- on the local, regional, state, and national levels.
Alternate and diverse perspectives
Hoey noted that O'Connor takes a "highly-scholarly" approach to teaching history: investigating primary documents, considering alternate and diverse perspectives, and challenging students to think historically, all while making connections to the present. "At the same time, she effectively embeds into her lessons the development of critical, historical thinking skills," he said.
Beyond academics, O'Connor builds authentic relationships with her students "to help them develop not only as citizens, but also as human beings," according to Hoey. "Christina is well-attuned to their social-emotional needs and proactively communicates with families. It is not surprising, then, that her classroom is one in which students feel safe, respected, and valued, and that 'Ms. O’C' is a trusted adult to whom they can turn."
Hingham High Principal Rick Swanson also had high praises for O'Connor. "Our school has an exceptional faculty that includes many talented and hardworking teachers, and nobody illustrates this better than Chrissy O'Connor," he said. "She cares deeply about her students, she works tirelessly at the craft of teaching, and she is driven by powerful convictions about the importance of studying history. She belongs on this prominent national panel of experts, where she will make important contributions while continuing to make our school very proud."