Conway High School 10th-grader Mary Nail is studying AP World History and has participated in National History Day in the past, but she and Arkansas history teacher and History Department Chair at Conway Junior High School Sherry Tipps-Holder have begun a project that should bring deeper understanding to World War II — specifically the Normandy Campaign — with a district Arkansas slant.

Nail and Tipps-Holder have been chosen as one of 15 teams to participate in the 2014 Albert H. Small Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Student and Teacher Institute.

The pair will soon be receiving a box of books, a pack of flash drives with articles on them and other research material to begin a semester-long intensive study into the Normandy Campaign. This will include choosing and researching one of the 123 Arkansans who fought in the Normandy Campaign and are buried at the American Cemetery at Colleville Sur Mer, France.

In June, Nail and Tipps-Holder will join other student/teacher teams in Washington, D.C., to attend sessions and conduct further research at the National Archives. Then, the teams will proceed to Normandy where Nails will deliver a eulogy at the grave of their chosen soldier.

Tipps-Holder said she heard of the program two years ago and thought it was a neat opportunity but the timing wasn’t right.

"When the application came out again this year, I decided it’s time to do this," she said. "I was primarily looking for a student who was vested in National History Day with a great work ethic. I’ve had a few of those, but I thought of Mary."

Nail and Tipps-Holder started the application process in September — which included resumes and essays — and found out they were selected for participation Dec. 16.

Nail said she has always had a lot on her plate and is not a stranger to time management. She said she is ready for the work and is excited about the travel.

"It’ll be neat to, instead of just reading about it, being able to go there and follow where they all went and learn it more first-hand," she said.

The team has finished an initial sweep to choose one of the 123 soldiers from Arkansas and have narrowed it down to three. They will declare their choice in February and research the soldier through online resources, local historical societies, archivists and possibly talking with living relatives if they can be found and are willing.

After the trip to Normandy, the team will create a website about the soldier’s life.

Tipps-Holder said she will serve in more of a mentor aspect for the project, but she and Nail will be doing the same institute "homework" throughout the semester, which includes completing selected readings, reviewing interviews with WWII veterans, engaging in online discussions with the other participants and researching their soldier.

"This is American history and world history with an Arkansas slant," she said. "We’ll be doing the research for this soldier."

Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day, said in a press release that "the students and teachers who have worked with NHD can attest to the powerful impression this program has on them. It not only teaches them about the past, but helps place current and future events into context. This program brings to life the importance of quality history education, and shows reverence and respect to those who gave their lives for their country. These students will emerge from this program with a greater understanding of the events and people who shaped their lives, and the world as they know it today."

For more information and to see websites students have created in the past, visit

(Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1212. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at