06/30/17 — Charting her own course through history

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Charting her own course through history

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 30, 2017 6:57 AM

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Skylar Holland, a rising freshman at Wayne School of Engineering, won second place nationally for her presentation on a "conspiracy of goodness" in France during the Holocaust. This is the third time the 13-year-old has participated in the National History Day contest and the second time she has advanced to the national event, held in Maryland. In the background is her social studies teacher, Jesse Pittard.

Skylar Holland is making history.

From her passion for the school subject to a propensity for the Broadway stage, she has parlayed the two into high marks in an academic contest.

The 13-year-old Wayne School of Engineering student recently won second place in the junior individual performance category at National History Day, held in Maryland.

"This is an incredible honor -- less than 1 percent of the projects that enter the contest at the local level advance to the national contest, and it takes a remarkable entry to win second place," said Gary Pettit, director of communications for National History Day.

More than a half a million middle and high school students from the U.S. as well as several countries participated in the contest, creating documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances and websites based on this year's theme, "Taking a Stand in History."

Seventy-one students from North Carolina were in the national event, with eight from the state making it into the Top 10 in their categories. Skylar is the only one from Wayne County.

The rising freshman's entry was entitled, "Le Chambon: Taking a Stand to Save Lives During the Holocaust Through a Conspiracy of Goodness."

Her 10-minute presentation had Miss Holland taking on the persona of a librarian at the Holocaust museum, sharing about a little Austrian girl placed on a train in 1941 bound for Chambon, France. She incorporated several characters, including a pastor and his wife who led the charge against indifference, hiding and protecting Jewish citizens during the Nazi regime. Her message wrapped up with her revealing that her librarian character was the grown-up girl from the train, now a founding member of the museum.

The "powerful story" spilled over when she presented it at nationals, Skylar said, sharing that it brought one of the judges to tears.

Based on real life events, Miss Holland's research led her to the daughter of the pastor and his wife. Nellie Hewett, now close to 90, lives in Minnesota.

"She was very happy that her parents' story was being told," Skylar said. "She wanted to help me. It was really crazy for me. It was like I was actually helping with pieces of history."

The Hollands forged a bond with Ms. Hewett that continues, as Skylar has been invited to share her research and presentation with a museum in Chambon.

"Nellie would love for us to take the information directly," said Skylar's mother, Ginger Holland, a home ec teacher at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

Ironically, she said, she recently won an 8-day trip to London, making plans to take her daughter later this summer.

"We might extend it if we can get into France," Mrs. Holland said.

This year marked Skylar's third time in the contest, her second at nationals. But only because of the contest rules.

Two years ago, her report on Helen Keller netted a third-place win in the state, which only sends the top two to nationals.

Last year her presentation on Mata Hari won at regional and state levels and was 11th in the nation in her category.

"My goal has always been getting in the Top 10," Skylar said. "To go to the top three, for me that was really crazy."

Her appreciation of history dates back to Ann Price, she said, her second grade teacher at Tommy's Road Elementary -- where her dad, Brent, is a physical education teacher. Mrs. Price's obvious enthusiasm for the subject was reflected in a 'Come to Life' museum where students got to portray different characters.

"I love history," Skylar said. "Any chance I get to go to a museum or just see anything that relates historically to a historical figure or historical event, I'll want to go see it.

"I also liked Broadway so acting's a big part of my life, too. The fact that I was able to combine acting with history was just amazing. If I can't do sports and be competitive that way I'll do it with this."

Her proud mother recalled later watching her daughter, then 10 years old, accompanying the family when Skylar's older brother, Peyton, now a 16-year-old rising junior at WSE, attended nationals.

"She pulled on the teacher's sleeve, Mr. (Jesse) Pittard and she said, 'I'm coming here one day," Mrs. Holland said.

Pittard, who recently took a job in Arizona, got to see that come to fruition. He accompanied them to nationals both years.

kylar is already thinking about what she will do for next year's event.

"It's almost like a game to her," Mrs. Holland said. "Some people collect stickers.

"She collects information."