After a year of research, a student-teacher team from the DeKalb Early College Academy (DECA) will travel to France to tell the story of a fallen World War II hero.
Sydnie Cobb, a DECA student, and professor Jason Butler are among just 15 student-teacher teams nationwide selected to participate in the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute. Each of the teams will research a person from their home region who gave his or her life in World War II during or after the Normandy landings of D-Day and is memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery.
The first leg of the journey will begin in Washington D.C. in June, where each of the teams will complete their research with expert assistance from the National Archives, historians, and college professors. Then the Cobb-Butler duo and the 14 other teams will travel to Normandy, France to present eulogies at the grave or memorial of their research subject.
While the duo has not selected the person they will honor, being chosen to participate is exciting. The DECA duo first explored the opportunity when Butler learned of it through his work with the National History Program and shared it with Cobb. Today, she’s glad she explored it further.
“When I first learned of the Normandy institute, I was very excited. I told my mom and she was excited about it,” Cobb said. “I was still deciding if I was going to do it and I did, and it worked out for the better.”
Butler and Cobb will spend the first half of the year taking a deep dive into their chosen hero using readings, historical research, and primary sources such as war records, draft cards, or interviews with descendants. To date, they’ve used opportunities to visit the National Archives website and utilize reading materials to begin their research.
Butler hopes to gain a multitude of experiences that will benefit not Cobb but all of his students.
“One thing I’m really excited about is that Sydnie is going to become a historian. There’s a difference between learning history that other people have put together and doing your own history (research),” Butler said. “This experience will allow her to do that and It’s something I’ve really enjoyed in my life and career because we’re going to be unearthing things that haven’t been discovered before and telling a story that hasn’t been told before.”
The institute is led by the National History Day organization. While in France, teams will visit museums, historic sites, and churches that were used as field hospitals. The group will also travel to the Normandy American Cemetery, where the eulogies will be given by the teams. “To me, when I think about the type of life I want to lead, it’s where the personal kind of blends in with the professional. I‘m doing something I enjoy but it’s also serving and it’s also fulfilling,” Butler said. “This checks all those boxes. It’s going to be fun.”
Overseas travel, courses, room and board, are all paid for by the generosity of Albert H. Small.