Students who presented the project "Leading Locally, Creating Change Countrywide: Unsung Heroes of Alabama's Civil Rights Movement" pose for a photo in front of their exhibit, which was featured in the Auburn Public Library over the summer

A project completed by 142 juniors at Auburn High School last year has earned the school the title of Bicentennial School of Excellence.

Auburn High is one of 21 schools in the state to receive the recognition, and along with the honor comes a grant of $5,000 to further extend the school's community-based learning programs.

Blake Busbin, who teaches 10th grade U.S. History and formerly taught AP History at Auburn High, led the students in the project that gained state attention — "Leading Locally, Creating Change Countrywide: Unsung Heroes of Alabama's Civil Rights Movement."

It highlighted citizens in communities across Alabama who played a role in the civil rights movement, even though they were never nationally recognized for their work.

"Students really enjoyed the project ... and seeing just what a housewife may have done in Birmingham or what a local barber shop owner did in Tuscaloosa, so discovering those stories of how someone who was an ordinary citizen — they’re not out marching in Washington DC necessarily — but when the opportunity came to their community they took that chance to make a change," Busbin said.

Using a $2,000 grant to purchase about 50 books on the Alabama civil rights movement as well as available online resources and archives, the students researched 31 different individuals and created a museum exhibit with the information they found. The exhibit was displayed in the Auburn Public Library over the summer months.

Busbin said that the high school being named a Bicentennial School of Excellence acknowledges the school's commitment to student engagement in the process of historical research.

"I think the students truly represented Auburn well through their commitment to research, and that says a lot about what we emphasize here at Auburn," Busbin said. "It's project-based learning and student-guided research. Students then engage their community through presenting this information. I think that says a lot about also how we treat history as a subject at AHS. We conduct research for the purpose of presenting it to a public audience."

Busbin has previously led students in similar projects that focused on local veterans and desegregation in Lee County. Busbin will take the $5,000 grant from the state and will use it to fund a future project, though he is unsure exactly what the subject will be.

"I am thinking something dealing with the Civil War era, perhaps researching slavery or reconstruction in the Auburn area, but I am still trying to navigate what is out there research-wise, what things students can access, so we’re still thinking about it in that context," he said.

He said he is proud of how the students engaged with the content of the latest project, which also had a purpose of "character education." He said he hopes that students "realize they too can create change that ... is monumental in and of itself," fame or no fame.

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