The History Fair is an enrichment program promoting the study of history. By encouraging students to take a creative approach to studying history, it recognizes student work in regional, state, and national events similar to science fairs. In the process, students learn research, writing, and communication skills and gain an understanding of the importance of historical perspective. Participating students develop research papers, exhibits, documentaries, and performances.
Some exhibits created by students are displayed in the museum on a rotating basis. The museum is showcasing “Messages From Behind the Wire: The Story of WWII Prisoner of War Frank Zmudka.” The exhibit was created by Megan Sack and Bryant Morris, students at Mendota High School, who were named the 2007 LaSalle County Student Historians of the Year.
Another History Fair project that achieved national recognition is the story of “The Radium Girls.” A performance group of middle school students won fifth place out of 77,000 exhibits with their play telling the tragic story of the young women who painted luminating dials for Radium Dial in Ottawa, IL. The students used the Society’s unique Pearl Payne Collection as a major primary source for their production. The workers fought through the court system to have their radium-induced illnesses recognized and hold the industry accountable for its workers’ health. A DVD and 30-page annotated bibliography is available in the museum gift shop.
The LaSalle County Historical Society has a long-standing educational partnership with the history fair. Sixth through twelfth grade students often use the Society library and museum complex as resources when searching for topics or seeking information for the history fair competitions hosted by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The museum makes files of student research papers and topical bibliographies available in a cooperative effort to preserve and share information.