Educator Frank O’Grady of Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland successfully coached seven young historians to compete at the national level in the National History Day contest, to take place virtually June 13-19.
O’Grady, a resident of Olmsted Township, teaches middle school history at Menlo Park Academy, a public charter school for gifted children.
National History Day frames students’ research within a historical theme. The 2020-21 theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. Themes are chosen for their broad application to world, national, or state history, along with their relevance to the past.
O’Grady’s involvement in National History Day began in 2011, when he was pursuing his Master of Education degree at Cleveland State University.
“One of my history professors approached me after class and told me that I should be a National History Day judge because of my enthusiasm for history,” O’Grady said. “He gave me the contact to our local National History Day regional coordinator, and I became a judge for that contest and the state-level National History Day contest, too.”
Once he graduated with his M.Ed. degree and began teaching, O’Grady started National History Day programs at the middle school and high school levels in the Rocky River school district. He was soon invited to serve as a judge at the national level, as well, for categories in which his students were not competing.
O’Grady moved to Menlo Park Academy in 2017, first serving as assistant school director for a year before moving into his teaching position and advising Menlo’s National History Day competitors.
“Our students’ National History Day project is their most comprehensive project-based learning project of the school year at Menlo,” says O’Grady.
First, students select a history topic and decide on the category in which they’d like to compete, as individuals or as a small group.
“The students then begin their history research, which is really the key to success in National History Day,” O’Grady says. “Once they are pretty far along in their research, I guide them through a process to write their thesis statement. Finally, they begin building their projects or begin writing and staging their performance. Many of our students are able to get interviews with newsmakers or historians as part of their research.”
As the regional level competition approaches, Menlo holds an in-house contest complete with judges, to serve as a dress rehearsal for the students.
“Our Menlo in-house contest is a big secret to our success,” O’Grady says. “This gives our students an opportunity to practice their presentations in front of our in-house judges that I train to use the exact same judging forms as [those used] at the National History Day contests. Our in-house judges include board members, administration, other Menlo teachers and even selected Menlo parents who love history.”
“The project-based learning of National History Day gives our Menlo students essential skills that will benefit them in high school and beyond, including historical research skills, project planning, presentation skills, and team-building skills, too,” says O’Grady. “It also gives them the confidence to know that they can plan and master a history topic of their own choice. By the time they reach even the first regional contest, they are so impressive presenting their history projects with enthusiasm and confidence to the National History Day judges.”
National History Day is a non-profit education organization based in College Park, Maryland. Founded in 1974, NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage more than a half-million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in project research and presentation. Since 1974, NHD has sought to improve history education in schools.
Menlo Park Academy is a public school that nurtures gifted children through an exemplary program and rewarding experiences that develop the whole child. It is consistently ranked as one of the top schools in Ohio. MPA offers a curriculum with innovative acceleration and differentiation options to the school’s 600 students, who hail from eight counties and fifty school districts in the Northeast Ohio area. MPA consistently receives high ratings from the Ohio Department of Education, and is a regular recipient of the “Auditor of State Award.” In addition, Niche selected MPA as the No. 1 Charter Elementary School in Ohio and the No. 1 Charter Middle School in Ohio, and ranked MPA among the top 15 Ohio public elementary schools for 2021.