Students from Joplin’s three middle schools had the opportunity to demonstrate their creative sides and fine-tune their people skills by interacting with the community during an annual project showcase event Tuesday at the Joplin Public Library.

The showcase featured dozens of projects created by students in the schools’ gifted or advanced communication arts courses who are competing in the upcoming National History Day contest and Lowell Milken Center’s Unsung Heroes contest. Teachers Heather Van Otterloo, Julie Gubera and Brooke Nicoletti managed the showcase, which is now in its second year.

Otterloo said the event gives the students a chance to generate ideas and increase their confidence before they’re judged at competition.

“It gives the students the opportunity to talk to the public, families and other students about their projects and build confidence before they go in front of people who are judging them at competition,” Otterloo said. “This is a neutral zone. We’re here to share our work. They still have a couple of weeks before the competitions, so they have time to make changes.”

The National History Day Region 6 contest is slated for Friday, March 6, at Missouri Southern State University. It includes schools from Jasper, Barry, Barton, Cedar, Dade, Lawrence, McDonald, Newton, St. Clair and Vernon counties.

The National History Day projects follow the theme “Breaking Barriers in History.” Students can choose from five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance and website. Nicoletti said the competition gives the students a lot of freedom and the option to pursue a topic they love.

“It’s a great way for them to explain how they’ve become experts on the subject, and by proclaiming that to others helps solidify their research to themselves,” Nicoletti said.

Breklyn Shelley, 14, an eighth grader at East Middle School, set up her exhibit on the discovery of insulin for her National History Day project. The black poster was decorated with blinking fairy lights, newspaper clippings, a video interview and a red timeline that mimicked heart monitor lines. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows cells to use glucose for energy.

“I did ‘Breaking Barriers in the Medicine World — The Discovery of Insulin,’” she said. “I have a bunch of family members who are diabetic, and my mom’s a nurse. She was telling me about this story about diabetic children who were dying in the 1920s. Someone came in with a shot of insulin, and it was brand-new. They all sat up and wanted to eat food. It was amazing, and I thought it was so cool.”

Shelley said she wanted to attend the showcase in order to receive feedback and constructive criticism for her first History Day project. Nicole Shelley, a nurse at the school district and Phoenix Home Care, said she’s proud of her daughter and all of the hard work she has put into her project over the last few months.

“I hope this showcase gives her the confidence to present it without any worries,” Nicole Shelley said.

Hayden Hewett, 14, an eighth grader at South Middle School, completed an art project on sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine for the Unsung Heroes contest. In the contest, students integrate art to tell the stories of courageous, unrecognized heroes who have had a significant impact on the course of history. Applications are due in late April, and winners will be announced May 30.

Hine documented various social issues, including the unfair practices of child labor in the early 1900s.

“He’s an unsung hero because a lot of people have seen at least one or two of his photos, but they never heard who actually took it,” Hewett said. “I saw a lot of the pictures of factory workers and coal miners, but I never really knew who took them until I started researching this. It was a very cruel environment for the children. Due to the laws at the time, they had to work almost twice as much for half the pay.”

Hewett’s project featured a Graflex camera made from cardboard and clay in the center and encompassed by a collage of black-and-white photographs of children working in harsh conditions. Behind the camera was a picture of Hine, which Hewett said depicts the man behind the camera.

“This technique was used to show the thing that most people don’t think about when they view pictures like this — Who is this person fighting for the justice of others?” Hewett wrote as part of his project.

Satina Drake, Hewett’s mother, said she loves how the showcase brings together all three middle schools and that the event gives the students the chance to step out of their comfort zones. This was their second year attending the showcase, which they say has been beneficial.

“I’ve noticed that his public speaking skills have improved, and he’s gotten comfortable with thinking on his feet,” she said. “He likes to be pushed academically, and he needs to be pushed. I think this event is a great thing for parents to walk around and question the students. You’re giving them that experience that they can’t get if people don’t show up. It’s more than just public speaking. They’re learning life skills for things like job interviews.”

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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