Pierre teacher McLain selected for World War I program

Jim McLain, a seventh grade language arts instructor at Georgia Morse Middle School in Pierre, has earned an all-expense National History Day scholarship for an international World War I course.

Jim McLain, a teacher at Georgia Morse Middle School in Pierre, is one of only 114 teachers selected for a National History Day® program titled “Legacies of World War I.” McLain receives free tuition, graduate credits, and materials for the online program, which he will use toward furthering his ongoing education.

Though a seventh grade language arts instructor, McLain majored in geography and global studies. “There’s a bridge between the two,” said McLain. “I like using history to teach language arts, to write in your own voice, to learn research, and look for the less obvious and often overlooked viewpoint. You can talk about history in so many other classes - math, art and others. Middle school can overlap between classes, with more segregation later on in high school.”

Last school year, McLain’s first, he helped advise the National History Day program with seventh and eighth grade kids. Each student can present their research in a documentary, exhibit, essay, performance or website.

“Like a science fair, but think of history,” said McLain. “We hosted the region competition for the first time this last March, sending a dozen to state competition in Brookings and then one eighth grader, Emma Reitzel, to nationals in Washington, D.C.”

The 20-plus year old program is usually hosted by different communities on an annual basis, though Pierre will host the program again this school year.

The scholarship program awarded to McLain is a partnership between the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and National History Day. McLain will participate in webinars and discussions with educators from around the world to learn about World War I and its lasting impact.

Each of the 58 affiliates of the National History Day program could choose two teachers. Affiliates include all 50 states and the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and international school programs in China, South Asia, and South Korea. South Dakota selected McLain.

“As part of the commemoration of the centennial of The Great War, National History Day is proud to partner with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission to help teachers delve into the history of this global event,” said Dr. Cathy Gom, executive director National History Day. “Mr. McLain will learn about specific aspects of the war he can take back to the classroom to ensure this piece of global history is not forgotten.”

This program is to educate teachers, and thus school students, about World War I through a series of more than 100 teaching events nationwide.

McLain has already begun the semester-long course, doing one module every four weeks. He must present a ‘speaking opportunity’ later - probably in March or April - to a major community group, such as the Veterans Affairs, VFW, the State Historical Society, or even the Department of Education.

“The idea of this WWI course is to get more perspectives that are not usually talked about, and the impact the war had on society. It is less so the European view, but more the American aspect,” said McLain. “We use primary sources from the time period and secondary sources from history experts. It’s been really fun to bounce off ideas, to discuss ways to incorporate it into my classes and students’ projects. It leads to more research writing, how to cultivate arguments, actually interpreting history and not being ‘stuck’ in history.”

National History Day is a non-profit organization based in Maryland, that seeks to improve the teaching and learning of history.

The National History Day Contest was established in 1974 and currently engages more than half a million students every year in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Top entries are invited to the national contest.

This school year, Pierre’s National History Day program will begin in October. Its theme is “Breaking Barriers in History.’

Feb. 14 is the deadline for students to submit their completed projects, then they have three weeks of practice before presenting their work to judges. The presentation date is tentatively the middle of March.

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress in 2013 to provide education programs, public outreach, and guidance for commemorative events regarding America’s involvement in WWI, which many see as The War That Changed the World.

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