For some students, history is just another subject in the day’s lesson plan. For Julia Owens, a Northshore Junior High School student, history is about fun – and earning first place in state competitions and achieving the White House History Award for her project.
“I’ve always been a fan of history [and] I’ve loved reading books, especially on Ancient Egypt and picking up different history books at my school library. Eleanor Roosevelt and presidents are also something I’m interested in,” Owens said. “It just started as a perfect fit and it was really comfortable for me.”
The story starts at the beginning of the school year when she, like all the other students in her class, were required to submit a project for National History Day (NHD) with a theme of “Leadership and Legacy.” The choice for Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t her original idea for the project, though it stemmed from the original idea.
“I watched the PBS special on the Roosevelts… so that got me thinking of Eleanor,” Owens said. “I was also going to do a project about the Tuskegee Airmen, but then I heard that Eleanor Roosevelt was the reason they were able to fly in the war. I thought that was very interesting and I wanted to dig deeper and learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Owens, along with the rest of her classmates in Challenge or Advanced Placement History, had to go through a rigorous series of competitions to be selected to go to the national competition in Washington, DC. For Owens, the project went through numerous stages of planning and preparation.
“I was thinking of how I was going to choose my topic, what research would be best for me to do, and just trying to get the mindset of ‘this is going to be all of my year,’ it wasn’t a weekend project,” Owens said. “I just had to get ready knowing I’d have to stay up late and do a lot of research for this project.”
She also had to make it past regional and state History Day competitions on her way to the top.
“I’m very proud of the students that make it to nationals, Julia just happens to be our highest finisher,” said Bill Boniface, Owen’s teacher at NJHS. “To narrow her focus and have arguments that are going to stand up… She did a really nice job with it. I think this project is, hands down, one of the most rigorous projects that they’ll have in their pre-college school.”
It wasn’t just her teacher who helped her out.
“It was primarily just making sure she had access to the information and materials she needed, such as getting her to the library or Michaels,” said Owen’s mother Andrea Prescott. “In terms of editing, she’d show me a draft and I’d ask her some probing questions to help her narrow her scope and drill down to what she really wanted to say. Offering feedback and support, and transportation.”
During the competition in DC, judges chose her piece, titled ‘Eleanor Roosevelt and her Leadership and Legacy in Changing the Roll of the First Lady,’ as the winner of the Junior Individual Exhibit for the White House History Award and the gold medal that comes with the title.
“I didn’t use a lot of glitz and glamor, but I made it simple and straight to the point; showing the simple elegance of Eleanor Roosevelt,” Owens said. “Finding sources is always a challenge, and overcoming that was really just researching, digging deeper than the average Google search.”
The efforts showed, too, when her name was announced as the winner of the competition Owens was a bit shocked.
“I’m just here to have fun and making to Nationals is already an achievement in itself. It was just a really cool experience,” Owens said. “I remember I signed up to participate in possibly receiving [the White House] award.”
The White House History Award is given to a junior and senior project done about someone who has either lived in the White House or a historical event that has happened at the White House completed in any project category and is sponsored by the White House Historical Association.
“Having them go ‘from Bothell Washington-’ and I was like, ‘I think I just won this!’” Owens said. “I was ecstatic, and proud, and happy to do this for my school and family members. It was just a really cool moment.”