Mount Douglas students win national history awards

Nine Grade 11 students recently received history awards from the government of Canada as part of a nationwide essay contest

Mount Douglas Grade 11 students (from left) Alecia LeBlanc

Mount Douglas secondary clearly has some history buffs.

Nine Grade 11 students recently received history awards from the government of Canada as part of a nationwide essay contest. The students wrote about such topics as the merits of Louis Riel and John A. Macdonald, the accuracy of historical retellings, the role of women during wartime, photo manipulation, and the adoption of the Canadian flag.

The recipients included Kennedy Aragon-Scriven, Sophie Eckard, Sasha Hamilton, Alecia LeBlanc, Victor Li, Sarah Sherwood, Emily Tsao, Kevin Wong and Lily Yang. The essays were incorporated into Mt. Doug’s Challenge program, which teaches students historical inquiry and writing skills. Students were assigned the essays in Adrian French’s social studies class, then peer edited them in Sean Lansdell’s English class.

“In Grade 11, there is some cross-curricular stuff we do between socials and English,” said Lansdell. “Some of the history stuff they do in socials matches up with, in particular, a novel called Three Day Road that we do in English that deals with the First World War.

“We spent pretty well a whole class working through peer editing as they exchanged papers and worked through a bunch of things to polish it up.”

Students were tasked with using primary sources, if possible, to get firsthand accounts of life during wartime. Li wrote about censorship of soldiers’ letters by the government through civilian and military postal services, a subject that particularly piqued his interest.

“I’ve always been a big fan of historical artifacts,” he said. “Being an air cadet, I also had a lot of exposure to a lot of veterans and currently serving (Canadian Forces) members. I talked to a lot of veterans and I wanted to figure out what happened in the past, aside from what we have documented because what we have documented isn’t necessarily the truth.”

Similarly, LeBlanc looked at how post-traumatic stress disorder can detract from a soldier’s account on the front lines, as well as the public’s perception during wartime as a result of widespread propaganda.

“There was a lot to do with shell shock and the effects of war on people, and I thought that was really interesting, to look at how war affected people and their memories, as well as looking at the obvious propaganda from the time that would affect what people might have thought of the war without actually seeing it,” she said.

Eckard was one of three students to write about the role of women as aid workers in the First World War, leading to the women’s suffrage movement, a pivotal force in the push for gender equality.

“Being a girl, I thought it was something that would apply to me, just to see the lengths that women went through to get to where we are today,” she said. “It was really interesting for me to learn about that and see all the barriers they overcame to fight for equality and have the same or close to the same rights as men.”

Added classmate Tsao, “Women played a really big part in Canadian history, and a lot of the time in school, we don’t necessarily study what women did but what other people did.”

With Mt. Doug winning nine of the 225 awards, Wong credited the Challenge program for their success.

“I think it reveals something about the program that we’re in,” he said. “All of our research skills from the three years that we’ve been in social studies have really helped us become those history buffs and be able to find that information we’ve put into our essays.”