Elyas Laibach, a seventh-grade student at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, sits in McKeldin Library sifting through archives about the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.
To find exactly what he is looking for, he weeds through dozens of sources relevant to his paper on handgun violence and crime.
Laibach is one of 96 students from Eastern Middle School using the archives at this university for his National History Day project.
National History Day is a nonprofit organization based in College Park that holds an annual project-based competition for students in all 50 states from sixth to twelfth grade.
The competition has three stages: regional, state and national. This university holds the national competition, which will take place June 10-14 in 2018.
The Eastern Middle School students have been coming to the campus for about 20 years to use the university archives because they are the largest public archives in the county.
Uma Fox, an eighth-grade student, came to the campus last year to use the historical files for her project. Her project explored the failures of the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education to address segregation.
Fox and her group members made a video for the project that qualified for the state finals.
“I had a really interesting experience, especially because I was interviewing a lot of … people with personal experiences with desegregation,” Fox said.
Her project made her realize how history “deeply affects” people’s lives.
The current seventh-grade students have been working with university librarian Jordan Sly, who has been showing them how to use the resources available.
Sly said he sees the middle schoolers’ work at this university as an opportunity to connect with the outside community, and he hopes to expand this connection to the larger community of Prince George’s County.
“Seeing [students] as young as about 12 years old [and] excited to do research is really heartening,” Sly said. “It’s been a fun experience to see them digging into research in the way that our college students do and getting excited about things they are learning about.”
The students’ teacher, Ryan Flynn, said he’s excited about their work at this university. He said he wants his students to be exposed to more scholarly research and encourages them to examine the sources that are not “easy go-tos.”
Allison Howlett, a seventh-grade student, is researching the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, and although she is grateful to have the opportunity to use this university’s resources for their projects, both Howlett and her classmate Laibach have had some difficulties using the archives.
“I had an issue with the sources being really broad because immigration reform is such a broad issue,” Howlett said.
Fox described coming to the campus for research as a “really cool experience.”
“When talking to people now about it,” Fox continued, “a lot of people have really good memories.”