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Fair's energy high despite low turnout

By Amber Marra

What they may have lacked in numbers, they made up for in hard work and creativity.

Students from two of four counties were missing from the Regional Education Service Agency 3 Social Studies Fair, but coordinator Lisa Lowe was happy with what she saw Tuesday afternoon.

"The students are not only showing these events in the past tense, but rather linking them to the future through global connections," she said.

About 35 or 40 students gathered at West Virginia State University for the fair.

The number could have been as high as 100 if it hadn't just been Boone and Putnam county middle school students in attendance. RESA 3 encompasses Kanawha and Clay counties as well, but neither participated in this year's fair, Lowe said.

Clay County Superintendent Kenneth Tanner couldn't say exactly how long his school system had been absent from the fair, but he did say it had been more than five years since any students participated.

"It's just one of those things that got kind of left aside, and a lot of other things were pushing at the door, I suppose. We may get back into it at some point, but teachers' plates have become pretty full," Tanner said.

Despite the absence of Clay and Kanawha students, there was plenty of enthusiasm among participants.

Students sat around waiting to give their presentations and to be judged. Some spent weeks assembling their colorful display boards and compiling the research accompanying their projects.

Hurricane Middle School students Cassi Sargeant, 14; Madison Casto, 13; and Gracyn Courtright, 14, did a project focusing on the history and profitability of Maybelline complete with a giant mascara brush and a colorful board twinkling with lights.

"We were initially wondering what mascara is made out of; we were just like, 'What are we putting on our eyes,' " Courtright said.

While not all of the boards were as catchy as the trio's "Maybe It's Maybelline" display, other subjects ranged from the grisly — famous serial killers - to the light-hearted — disco.

Trent Cook, 14, of Madison Middle School, researched the history of Project Greek Island, the name for the project that built the secret underground bunker for Congress at The Greenbrier during the Cold War.

At least 30 percent of the students involved in this year's fair also used technology in some way, Lowe said.

Although participating in the fair is optional for counties and schools, the students who enter often are graded in their social studies classes on how well they conducted and presented their research, Lowe said.

Some, like Kadin Tooley, 12, of Winfield Middle School, drew from what he was studying in his classes with a project on the pyramids of Giza.

"We had recently been studying Egypt, and me and my partner loved it and thought it would be an interesting thing to dig down deep into," Tooley said.

Other students, like Abby Brown, 11, of Madison Middle School, had a more personal connection to their projects. Brown researched her cousin, Jack Hilderbrand, who helped organize the first moon landing and has worked for NASA for 50 years.

Brown had noticed a slight decline in the attendance since her first few years as a social studies fair contender, but Lowe estimated that attendance was up from last year by about 10 percent.

"Kids, they get into other things, but I like learning about the history of the topics I choose," Brown said.

The first-place winners of Tuesday's regional competition will go on to the state social studies fair April 29 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Contact writer Amber Marra at or 304-348-4843.


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