MANATEE -- Raven Troyer, a sophomore at Manatee School for the Arts, read about the monumental Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II in her history classes.
But this year, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Troyer will experience history beyond the walls of the classroom as she walks along the shore of Normandy's beaches in the footsteps of fallen war heroes.
Troyer and her teacher, Tea McCaulla, are one of 15 student-teacher teams selected from a national pool to honor the fallen in Normandy this summer through National History Day, an academic organization that encourages historical research through archives, museums, interviews and historic sites.
Troyer and McCaulla are the first team from Florida selected for the annual trip. McCaulla said the application process is rigorous, and Troyer and McCaulla had to submit essays.
"This is the first year I've been really interested in history," Troyer said. "A lot of my family is in the military in the (U.S.) Marines, but I've never actually taken the time to learn about what they have had to do. This is a way of honoring my family."
The trip runs June 21 through July 3 and begins in Washington, D.C. While the program offers Troyer and her teacher an opportunity to travel, it is not a vacation.
Participants must complete a full research project before the trip in addition to watching recorded lectures, participating in discussion forums and reading various books about World War II.
"The work is intensive," McCaulla said. "I chose Raven to apply for this because she is responsible, organized and dedicated. She's not going just for the trip. She always goes above and beyond."
Before departing, Troyer will research the life of a Florida soldier buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and make a memorial website in his honor. Through their research, Troyer and McCaulla found 130 Floridians are buried at Normandy.
"They are the silent heroes that were not noticed as much," Troyer said.
While in Washington, D.C., and France, the teams will meet with historians, visit monuments and walk the beaches of Normandy.
At the end of the trip, students will write and pres
ent a eulogy and a wreath for their state soldier. The teams will also spend one night in Paris.
The research and presentations do not end when Troyer and McCaulla return to the states. Troyer will give presentations about the trip to classmates and schools around Manatee County.
"It is so different than class, where we only spend about one day on a topic," Troyer said. "I get to spend a whole semester on one topic and one soldier and different perspectives of World War II."
The start of the project has been bumpy for Troyer and McCaulla. When they found out they had been selected for the program, McCaulla's daughter was in the hospital.
"Raven really stepped up to the plate during that time and took over," McCaulla said.
Troyer, who wrote her application essay from the perspectives of families of deployed soldiers, said she cried when she heard they were accepted.
"I am so excited for that last day, when we get to put our wreaths down," Troyer said. "I am excited to hear what everyone has to say about why they chose to honor that certain soldier. It's going to be a special moment."
McCaulla said the preparation she and Troyer are doing for the trip is on par with undergraduate-level work.
"The experience goes beyond the classroom walls and teaches lifelong skills," McCaulla said. "It involves using primary sources, developing a thesis and putting together an annotated bibliography."
McCaulla is an English teacher, but she has been participating in National History Day projects and competitions in her classroom the past few years.
This week, her students, including Troyer, submitted essays for the Florida Day competition.
Troyer submitted a research paper on the "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," which tells the story of a farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge for the study of medicine, the development of the polio vaccine and gene mapping.
Terence Devine, assistant principal for Manatee School for the Arts, said he is proud of Troyer and McCaulla's ambition.
"They are a great duo," Devine said. "Mrs. McCaulla is always looking for ways to engage students."
Troyer said her advice to students is to grab each opportunity that presents itself during their academic careers.
"When your teacher comes up to you with a crazy suggestion, go for it!" Troyer said. "Go for anything you think you can achieve, and make the most of being a student."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081