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Lander Student and Teacher Selected for National History Day Institute

January 21, 2016

Sydney Polson, of Lander, and her teacher, Gayla Hammer, were selected to tell the story of a fallen World War II hero from Wyoming and honor him with a eulogy delivered at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

Hammer is a sixth-grade science teacher and National History Day coach at Lander Middle School. Polson is a former student of Hammer who is now a junior at Lander Valley High School. Polson has participated in Wyoming History Day at the University of Wyoming and qualified for the National History Day Contest finals for the past five years in the documentary category.

“I am excited for them to receive this award, and I look forward to their sharing this experience with other teachers, students and members of the Wyoming community upon their return,” says Wyoming History Day Coordinator Dick Kean at the UW American Heritage Center (AHC).

Polson and Hammer were selected from applicants across the country to join 14 other student and teacher teams that each will select a Silent Hero who gave his or her life in World War II during or after the D-Day landings and who is memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery. Teams spend a year researching the story of their Silent Hero through historical research using primary sources such as war records, draft cards and interviews with family members.

In June 2016, Hammer and Polson will join the other teams in Washington, D.C., to finish their research with help from the National Archives, historians and college professors. While in D.C., they will tour the World War II Memorial and attend a dinner hosted by the White House Historical Association. Their year concludes with a journey to Normandy, France, where Polson will present a eulogy at the memorial of this Silent Hero.

“Throughout their research, these students and teachers become deeply connected to their Silent Heroes,” says National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn. “When Sydney presents the eulogy, she will be reading a eulogy for someone she knows, someone whose story she is responsible for telling. It results in a powerful, and often tearful, understanding of the sacrifice Sydney’s Silent Hero made in Wold War II.”

The Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute seeks to teach a new generation about the sacrifices and challenges faced during World War II. The program is coordinated by National History Day and is funded by Albert H. Small, a veteran himself.

Throughout the program, students and teachers create a website that documents the story and sacrifice of their Silent Heroes. After participating in the program, teams present the story of their Silent Hero to local schools, community groups and veteran’s organizations.

Wyoming History Day is the state affiliate of National History Day, the nation's premiere education enrichment program for elementary and secondary school students. The state program is administered by the AHC, and the state contest is held at the AHC every spring. Students produce dramatic performances, imaginative exhibits, multimedia documentaries and research papers based on research related to an annual theme.

National History Day offers yearlong academic programs that engage over a half million middle and high school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

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