Texas Tech University

Texas Tech, LISD partnership fosters connections with history

Robert Stein

April 14, 2023

With some help from Texas Tech University faculty, a group of high school students from Lubbock is traveling to Austin to compete in the statewide National History Day competition.

The students, all ninth graders at Estacado Early College High School (EECHS) in Lubbock Independent School District (ISD), are competing on Saturday (April 15) after winning local and regional contests earlier this year. If they win in Austin, the students will go on to represent Lubbock at the national competition in Maryland.

Alexandria Sauceda and Sydney Urrutia pose with their exhibit.

Their journey started in the fall, when they participated in a new social studies curriculum developed through a partnership between Lubbock ISD and Texas Tech. The experience helped the students improve their research skills and develop a deeper appreciation for history, and now they're ready to put everything they've learned to the test in Austin.

"My colleagues and I are delighted by the students' success," said Mellinee Lesley, the project director and a professor in the Language, Diversity & Literacy Studies (LDLS) program at Texas Tech. "This partnership is emblematic of the synergy that can take place when schools and universities collaborate."

Alexandria Sauceda and Sydney Urrutia, two of the Lubbock students headed to Austin, partnered to create an exhibit board about the life of Jackie Robinson, an American Major League Baseball player who is best known for breaking the league's color barrier in 1947.

Their board featured striking primary sources that documented the racism that Robinson faced, including a hate letter Robinson received during his first season playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Sauceda and Urrutia chose Robinson because they grew up with baseball and softball and were familiar with the name. But after researching him more, they were surprised to see how Robinson helped transform American society as a whole.

A hate letter sent to Jackie Robinson.

"He impacted a lot more people than we originally thought," Sauceda said. "Like with segregation – if it weren't for him, our world today would be a lot different."

The other students who are advancing to the state-level National History Day contest are Oscar Campos and Daniel Jimenez, whose research focused on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Marcus Cuevas, who examined the way athletes changed the sport of Olympic swimming by successively breaking records and thus expectations and even rules.

They will join more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers from across Texas and present their work to a panel of judges. Outstanding entries can earn scholarships or monetary awards.

Students at Estacado all created National History Day projects as part of "lab days" at the school, which were made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The 23 weeks of lab days emphasized critical reading and writing skills, while also giving students the chance to dive deep into academic research and create projects based on historical investigations. Students gained knowledge on library resources and practiced citing sources and developing historical arguments.

In addition to valuable research skills, the experience gave diverse students the opportunity to connect personally with history and better understand marginalized and disenfranchised groups, Lesley said.

"Students advancing to the state-level competition is one of the goals of the grant and an indicator that the grant has been a success," Lesley said. "We also see the students' success as an important barometer of college readiness, which was one of the primary purposes of the grant."

Titled "Advancing Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy Together: Using History Labs to Enhance College Readiness," the project at Estacado was started in 2020 and is funded by a $100,000 NEH grant.

Joining Lesley on the grant is another professor in the LDLS program, René Saldaña. Elizabeth Stewart and Johanna Keene, doctoral students in LDLS, served as research assistants.

The grant has been extended for another year, and researchers aim to make the enhanced curriculum a permanent fixture at Estacado.