Photo: Suzanne Zmijewski Lim, Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award winner in the Junior Division (6th to 8th grades) by the National History Day Contest
When Suzanne Zmijewski Lim, an eighth-grade history educator at the Chenery Middle School, heard she was named the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award winner in the Junior Division (6th to 8th grades) by the National History Day Contest, her first reaction was to burst into tears.
“The Zmijewski women are happy criers, and I was so honored to be chosen,” said Zmijewski Lim in an email interview with the Belmontonian.
The award is sponsored by Patricia Behring in recognition of the pivotal role teachers play in the lives of students. As the winner of this award, she will receive $10,000, according to a press release from the NHDC. Zmijewski Lim received the award during National History Day’s live-streamed National Contest Awards Ceremony on Saturday, June 19.
“I have put my heart and soul into History Day during my entire 26-year career (plus another year when I did my student teaching at Belmont High School), so I was grateful that my work was recognized in this way, especially in such a difficult year,” she said.
By studying history, students learn about cause and effect, how to have civil discourse, and how to evaluate and make arguments.Suzanne Zmijewski Lim, Chenery Middle School
National History Day is a year-long interdisciplinary program focused on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression for students in grades 6-12. A student-led project by design, NHD asks students to conduct primary- and secondary-source research on a historical topic of their choosing and present their work through a documentary film, website, performance, paper, or exhibit. Students can compete at local, regional, state, and national levels with the opportunity to win prizes and recognition for themselves and their school. Approximately 6,000 students annually participate across the Commonwealth, sponsored in the state by the Massachusetts Historical Society.
With increasing demands are placed on the middle school curriculum in the past decade highlighted by an increased emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and advanced maths classes, Zmijewski Lin believes it is equally important to study history, as it helps people understand their world and their government.
“History is useful as middle school students develop their own identity and figure out how they can contribute to their community and nation. By studying history, students learn about cause and effect, how to have civil discourse, and how to evaluate and make arguments,” she said.
Zmijewski Lin said those Chenery students who seek academic challenges are drawn to the National History Day competition.
“While it is open to all 8th graders, I often invite students I know would love it or who would benefit from pushing themselves to learn new skills. A number of parents also contact me directly because they have heard of History Day and want their students involved. There is a lot of choices within History Day including topic, partners, and type of project, so students get excited about exploring subjects they are passionate about,” she noted.
As examples of students who tested themselves with NHD projects, Zmijewski Lin points to rising Belmont High School 9th graders Sam Geiger and Isabella Hu.
“In addition to spending hours researching his topic ‘How Feminism in the 1920s Affected Fashion,’ Sam made a professional-looking website and was able to connect to his new sewing hobby by making a dress as part of his project. Isabella wrote an amazing paper on the use of spy satellites during the Cold War which went all the way to Nationals. Both of them really threw themselves into the project, learning and practicing many skills along the way,” she said.
Zmijewski Lin’s work and passion for NHD was recognized by state and national colleagues.
“Sue is an exceptionally talented teacher, admired by colleagues, administration, and students alike,” said Dr. Elyssa Tardif, director of education at the Massachusetts Historical Society. “Her warmth and guidance are remembered by students years after they’ve left her classroom. In fact, one past NHD student wrote: ‘your class, as well as the whole NHD experience, helped me love learning and believe in myself more.’ Sue embodies the best of what NHD teachers can offer students, and we are incredibly proud to have her representing the entire NHD in Massachusetts program.”
And how will Zmijewski Lin use the award to promote history and NHD activities in Belmont schools?
“That is a great question! I actually haven’t had a chance to catch my breath after hearing that I won the award, so I will have to think about that over the summer,” she said.
To learn more about how to get involved in NHD, visit masshist.org/masshistoryday.