Social studies teacher and sophomore bound for Hawai’i


Max Froehlich

The program is fully funded by National History Day, something to which both Griggs and Holtey have a deep devotion. Griggs was first exposed to History Day in 2014 when he was asked to be a judge for one of the regional competitions.

Aditya Suresh, staff writer

While most students and staff were relaxing over Thanksgiving break, 9th grade social studies teacher Christopher Griggs and sophomore Sonja Holtey were hard at work completing their applications for the National History Day Summer Institute in Hawai’i. The application process was extensive, but the pair found out that they were selected to attend about three weeks later. 

“We were fortunate enough to be accepted, and we’re super excited about it,” Griggs said.

Over 50 teams applied for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and only 16 teams were selected. The teams hail from various states and territories, including Guam, Hawaiʻi, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Singapore, Texas, and Minnesota. 

Sponsored by National History Day, the National History Day Summer Institute, more commonly referred to as Sacrifice for Freedom, began in 2019 as an opportunity for teacher-student teams to study the Pacific theater in World War II (WWII). 

This upcoming spring, Griggs and Holtey will read historical texts and primary documents while also participating in online discussions to deepen their knowledge on the topic. 

They will also research and craft a eulogy for a fallen military member from Edina. Griggs and Holtey chose Owen Robert Baird, a pilot who served in the Marine Corps. He died one month before the end of WWII at the age of 20. 

“That was partially why we wanted to do our eulogy for him because we thought it would be important to commemorate him,” Holtey said. Griggs and Holtey will give their eulogy at Baird’s grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

The pair and the other teams will also visit the USS Arizona Memorial, spend a night on board the USS Missouri, the ship on which the signing of the treaty to end WWII in the Pacific took place, as well as visit with military and local historians at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites and across the island of Oahu. 

Both Griggs and Holtey are looking forward to what they might gain from the trip. 

“I’m hoping to learn more about what role the Pacific theater played in WWII and also just the history of it in general. I’m also really hoping to learn more about the people who played roles there,” Holtey said.

The program is fully funded by National History Day, something to which both Griggs and Holtey have a deep devotion. Griggs was first exposed to History Day in 2014 when he was asked to be a judge for one of the regional competitions. 

“I was blown away by the quality of the projects that were there,” Griggs said. The competition inspired Griggs, and he began an after-school History Day Club at South View Middle School (SVMS). 

“The first year, I probably had 10 students, and the next year we had 15 to 20, and it just kind of grew over time,” Griggs said.

It was there at SVMS where Griggs and Holtey met. “So, I started in seventh grade and I didn’t know much about it, but a friend and I both joined together,” Holtey said. She gained a newfound passion from this first experience and placed 5th at state with two others in eighth grade. 

After the success with History Day at SVMS, Griggs decided to expand it to the eighth-grade social studies classrooms at SVMS and found great success, with a couple of students even being selected for the state competition. With that, Griggs then had his sights set on the high school, but the COVID-19 pandemic made him hesitant to introduce History Day to ninth-graders last year. 

“With distance learning going on, I didn’t feel like it was the right time to start here,” Griggs said. Luckily, Griggs was able to introduce it this year to the current ninth-graders.

The two have been a part of History Day for quite some time, and it has greatly impacted the pair’s lives. “History day has been a really great experience. Just to be able to kind of expand my boundary and learn more about a topic helps me to better understand the world around me,” Holtey said. “For me, the reason that I like it so much is it’s a great way for students to engage in real authentic learning on a subject that they care about and get to choose,” Griggs said.