It’s not often that elementary school teachers have the opportunity to coach and prepare students to compete in state level academic competitions, but that’s exactly what happened to two teachers at Lizemore Elementary recently. The results were heartening – two regional champions and one state champion in the annual West Virginia State Social Studies Fair.
It started late this winter when fifth grade teacher Stephanie Gauding decided that she wanted to involve her 18 students in project-based learning activities. After some research she found the perfect vehicle in the upcoming State Social Studies Fair. Gauding learned that Clay County had not participated in that competition for a number of years but got the go-ahead from the Central Office to run a school level fair as a possible launching pad for the school system to begin competing again annually.
Gauding enlisted the help of her colleagues in the third and fourth grade classrooms at Lizemore, and soon students were beginning research for over 30 separate projects. Students chose a category ranging alphabetically from Anthropology to World History and then decided on a research question. Help came from third grade teacher Brittany Gibson, fourth grade teacher Nellie Elliot, and a dozen or so parents to get the projects completed by mid-March.
An all-day Social Studies Fair was conducted at Lizemore on March 24, with the school’s cafeteria lined with projects and nervous students being called individually and in groups to do a five-minute oral presentation regarding the research and the display board they had prepared.
Late in the afternoon the students reported to the gym to hear the results of the judging. To advance to the Regional Social Studies Fair students had to earn a score of at least 90 from the local judges. Scores were based on a written abstract and bibliography describing the project, a 36”x 30” trifold display, and the student’s oral presentation. After announcing first, second and third place winners it was determined that six projects would advance to Regional Competition at the Cultural Center in Charleston on April 4.
Lizemore’s region consisted of Kanawha, Putnam, and Boone counties – all school systems that have significantly more students than Clay – but when winners were announced two of Lizemore’s individual projects were named champions and were invited to the State Social Studies Fair. Brittany Gibson’s third grade student Israel Holcomb and Stephanie Gauding’s fifth grader Kendall Neal left the Cultural Center with their Regional Championship ribbons.
Other students who placed at the Regional Fair included Bryson Duty and Levi Hughes – 3rd Place: Ayva Holcomb and Anni Dorsey – 3rd Place: Hailey Neal and Neveah Hall – 2nd Place: and Aubree Legg, Trystan Burdette and Kayle Holcomb, 3rd Place.
All participating students enjoyed a tour of the Cultural Center and the State Capitol as well as a picnic on the grounds as they waited for the projects to be scored.
On Friday, April 18, Israel and Kendall arrived early at the Convention Center (with their escorts) for the State Fair. Their projects were among 309 projects from scores of counties across the state.
Kendall’s project dealt with the surge in popularity of board games during the pandemic. She concluded that while board games sales did grow substantially during the pandemic, the growth was largely among adult gamers.
Israel’s world history project centered on the medical treatment of wounded soldiers during World War I. He concluded that compared to modern medicine, treatment during the war was rudimentary and was often administered by soldiers to themselves.
Late in the afternoon winners were announced by category and division. Divisions included students in 3rd through 5th grade, 6th through 8th grade, and 9th through 12th grade. That was when Israel’s parents, Rebekah and James Holcomb, as well as Mrs. Gauding and Ms. Gibson learned that in addition to two Regional Champions, Lizemore School had produced one State Champion. While Kendall’s project was among hundreds that didn’t place, she said that she enjoyed the experience and was proud to be chosen as a finalist.
Ms. Gibson, who is first-year teacher, said she felt gratified to be a part of a State Championship, and praised Israel for the work he did preparing for competitions. “Israel loved his topic and became an expert in the field,” she said.
Lizemore Principal Brittany Ramsey was also thrilled to have a State Champion among her student body. “I hope we can continue with the Fair next year. It was a wonderful learning experience for the staff and students, and I’m so pleased with the results.”
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