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Millcreek Journal

Skyline student-teacher team selected for Silent Heroes program

May 30, 2022 04:22PM ● By Liz Craker

Skyline High School social studies teacher Melinda Reay and student Ayden Cline will be participating in the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute, a student-teacher cooperative learning program held in Hawaii this summer. (Photo courtesy of Granite Schools)

By Liz Craker | [email protected]

Students from Skyline High School qualified for the National History Day competition while competing in the Utah National History Day this spring. The event was held at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City.

More than 3,000 Utah students, from fourth to 12th grades, participated in Utah National History Day learning activities in their schools or districts this school year. The National History Day competition will take place virtually in June.  

The Skyline students who qualified for the National History Day are Aiden de Boer, Charity Dummar, Eliza Hunter, John Paul Markosian, Gwen McConkie, Ashley Peterson, Yucheng Chen, Elle Dykstra, Jenna Tran, and Joyce Wang.

Topics for the projects are selected from local, national and world history by the students. They can choose to create an exhibit, a documentary film, a paper, a live performance, or a website to present their work. There is no cost for students to submit an entry.

Melinda Reay, Skyline social studies teacher and 2019 Utah History Teacher of the year, said, “We have been building our history program for the last couple of years. Especially since Skyline is known for our STEM.” 

Reay has also been selected with student Ayden Cline, to participate in the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute, a student-teacher cooperative learning program. The program is coordinated through National History Day and will take place in Hawaii this summer.  

Reay explained that she began encouraging students to participate in National History Day activities because she wanted to help them to avoid simply fulfilling a class requirement by just getting through the class. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to dive into a topic that they are interested in, to focus on the ability to write and create an argument, and to become well-rounded,” she said.

“History Day offers teachers a powerful way to interest today’s students in history and to develop a foundation for civic engagement,” said Wendy Rex-Atzet, Utah’s state coordinator.  “Each student chooses what they want to research. In the process of discovering something new, students also gain concrete skills in research, writing, critical thinking, and creative presentation. The intellectual work involved builds college and career skills that will serve them for years to come.

“They are asking hard questions and learning answers, as well as learning how to analyze info, to research, to assess sources, and to learn about archives,” she said. “These are really terrific skills that are built into this competition that they will take with them beyond what they are doing with this one project.”

In preparation for the Hawaii institute, Cline will develop a Silent Hero profile to be published online during the 2022-23 academic year at as part of the Sacrifice for Freedom program. Cline selected Ivan LeRoy Bills, a Riverton resident who died at sea at age 18 while serving in the Navy, for his project.

“I wanted to memorialize a service member who was missing in action or buried at sea in order to give the person the memorialization they deserve,” Cline said. “He won several different medals, and some haven’t even been put on his grave site.”

Cline connected with Bills’ family and learned that Bills was awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Silver Star and that the family had never received those recognitions. Through Cline’s work, the awards were added to Bills’ gravesite and to his military commendations.

Cline explained that Bills was a gunner on a ship who died while defending it from enemy fire. “He was just a little bit older than me and to go into a war at the scale of what it was is very eye-opening,” Cline said. “It’s very eye-opening to learn about the Pacific theater and the sacrifices made there.”

Cline and Reay will tour Pearl Harbor as well as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Punchbowl as part of the week-long Hawaii educational trip at the end of July.

“This program makes history tangible as students trace the steps of soldiers and visit locations that were instrumental in the Pacific during World War II,” Executive Director Cathy Gorn said. “Each year, when students read their eulogies for their Silent Heroes at military cemeteries in Hawaii, I can see the deep meaningful connections that transcend time and place. The past becomes the present in that moment.”

Reay approached Cline about participating in the project as she saw his passion for history. “He is the first ever Utah student in the 15-year history of the Silent Heroes program to be selected,” she said. Only 15 of the 54 student-teacher teams that entered were selected.

“I’m really, really excited about this opportunity,” Cline said. He was in his fourth period physics class when Reay took him out of class to tell him he was selected. “It was an awesome feeling, and I felt like I could walk on water,” he said.

The program, coordinated through National History Day, is sponsored by the Pearl Harbor Historic Site Partners, including Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Pacific Historic Parks, USS Missouri Memorial Association, and Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor. The program began as an opportunity for student-teacher teams to study World War II in the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.