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Examining the Past Through a Modern-day Lens

Examining the Past Through a Modern-day Lens

With their National History Day projects, 8th grade students apply modern-day skills through a historical context.

The documentary film opens with powerful footage of Jim McKay broadcasting live from the 1972 Summer Olympics. McKay, a sports journalist, was reporting on the abduction and murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists: “They’re all gone,” he said.

The film was created by Middle School students Bella Grenier ’25 and Sarah Mackey ’25 for their National History Day 2021 project, which is a year-long academic program in which every 8th grade student at USM participates. They select a person or event to research, and then develop a final project in the form of a historical paper, website, documentary, exhibit, or performance. Their research is framed within a theme that changes every year, and this year’s theme was Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. The experience culminates in a series of contests at the local and affiliate levels and an annual national competition in the nation's capital in June.

Sarah Mackey and Bella Grenier pose for a photo for their NHD project.

Sarah Mackey '25 (left) and Bella Grenier '25.

Grenier and Mackey knew they wanted to research a terrorist attack, but were not sure how to narrow their focus until Chuck Taft, 8th grade American studies history teacher, mentioned the events at the 1972 Summer Olympics. “We focused our project on the effect that McKay’s broadcast had on the rest of the world,” said Grenier. “It revolutionized live news coverage and it changed how terrorists use news media for attention.” Not only did they have to research the event and analyze it within the framework of communication, they had to teach themselves how to edit film clips, record audio voice-overs, and stitch it all together in a finished piece. “We liked the documentary format because we had a lot of film clips that we could incorporate,” said Mackey. “But we had to make sure the volume of our voice-overs was the same and that the timing matched with each clip. We definitely learned a lot.”

Jim McKay broadcasts during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.

Jim McKay pictured reporting from the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.

For Taft, who was one of 15 educators selected by NHD to write and test a series of student guides, the project is a culmination of experiences. “Regardless of how they fare in the competition, every student walks away from NHD a winner,” he said. “Not only do they become historical experts in an area they’re passionate about, they gain confidence and experience.”


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