It’s not every day that a high school student has the chance to do original historical research using the National Archives with guidance from professional historians.
But Delta High School sophomore Hannah Doyle and her social studies teacher David Blacketer also will use their findings to deliver a eulogy for a fallen World War II hero this summer in Normandy, France.
They are one of 15 student-teacher pairs chosen nationwide to research the personal sacrifice of a largely unknown American service member.
“It will be someone you don’t read about in the history books,” said Doyle, who came to Delta High via Hanford High School.
Hannah and Blacketer have yet to learn who they’ll spend a year studying through war records and interviews with surviving relatives as part of the National History Day project.
But they said they’re relishing bringing to light the story of someone who participated in a war that had such a profound effect on the nation and world.
“It’s real historical research; it’s not what you do in the classroom,” said Blacketer, who is assigned to Delta High from the Kennewick School District.
Delta High, a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school based in Pasco, is cooperatively operated by the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts.
Along with promoting careers in engineering and the sciences, the school has actively pushed students to participate in National History Day, a program that has students conduct yearlong research. Blacketer and other Delta High staff have long touted the program’s ability to encourage critical thinking and curiosity.
“The humanities are a silent piece of the STEM puzzle, but they tie that puzzle together,” Blacketer said.
Hannah took first place last year at the state National History Day competition with her research on William Henry Seward and his efforts to have the federal government buy Alaska from the Russian Empire.
The win sent her to nationals, where she learned about the Normandy project. The institute has so far told the stories of 80 largely unheard of people who died in World War II.
“I thought it would be really interesting to trace the physical steps of a hero from Washington,” she said.
In September, she approached Blacketer about applying. The pair began writing essays and compling the necessary resumés and letters of recommendation. They learned in mid-December that they were accepted, along with another student-teacher pair from Vancouver, Wash., and 13 other teams nationwide.
“I was really shocked. It’s a real honor to be accepted,” Blacketer said.
At this point, the pair have participated in online discussions and completed reading and video assignments provided by organizers. In the coming weeks, they’ll be provided a list of the Washington service members who died during World War II.
Hannah and Blacketer will work on the project during the rest of the school year before traveling to Washington, D.C., in June to use the National Archives.
They’ll then fly to Normandy to visit museums, historic sites and churches that were used as field hospitals. The pair then will go to the Normandy American Cemetery.
“When Hannah presents the eulogy, she will be reading a eulogy for someone she knows, someone whose story she is responsible for telling,” Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day, said in a release. “It results in a powerful, and often tearful, understanding of the sacrifice Hannah’s silent hero made in World War II.”
Blacketer said National History Day has progressively grown at Delta High since 2009, but the work he and Hannah do will further show the value of historical research by students.
The pair also will create a website and give their presentations to local community groups, classes and veterans groups.
And Hannah isn’t content with just learning about a fallen American hero. She’s also competing in regular National History Day activities this year, working on a project about the recently settled Hanford downwinder lawsuit, where as many as 5,000 people sought damages from the government claiming their health was affected by past radiation releases.
Blacketer said he won’t be surprised if that project also wins at state.
“She might be doing the national contest and leaving straight from Normandy,” he said.