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Fifth-grader ready for next challenge

March 16, 2006

"The Seychelles is a group of islands located off the coast of Africa in which ocean?" was one of the final round of questions at the National Geographic Geography Bee at Sebago Elementary School recently. The official Bee clock started ticking as the three finalists concentrated, trying to picture the map of Africa and its islands.

"Your time is up," announced timekeeper Sue Keisman.

"The correct answer is the Indian Ocean," I said as the Geography Bee "bee master" (or moderator). "Please show your answer to the judges."

Sebago Fifth-grader Isaiah Perez
is the school Geography Bee champion.
He is shown here with his proud mom Pam Charette.
Photo by Allen Crabtree

After the finalists answered two more difficult questions the final round of questions was done. Judges Paul Stickney, Marie Bishop and Denise Olsen huddled to compare scores. "We have a winner," announced Sebago Elementary Principal Andrea Lane. "The Geography Bee champion for our school is fifth grader Isaiah Perez!"

The students gathered in the school cafeteria went wild with applause, and Perez came forward to receive his certificate and medal. He had bested the entire 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in answering the most questions correct in this annual geography competition sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

This is the 18th year that National Geographic has been putting on the Geography Bee. Starting at the local school level, students from the 4th through the 8th grade compete in a series of competition designed to test their knowledge of geography and the world, to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark student interest in the subject, and increase public awareness about geography.

In December and January local schools have Bees to select their best geography student. Each school champion takes a written test that is submitted to the National Geographic for scoring, and the top 100 students in each state and territory compete at a state-level Bee. The competition for Maine will be held at the University of Maine at Farmington on March 31. The winner of each state Bee proceeds to the national competition.

The 55 state and territory winners will meet at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the national competition on May 23-24, 2006. The number of contestants is narrowed to ten finalists from an original field of five million students, who compete for a $25,000 college scholarship. The second- and third-place winners receive $15,000 and $10,000 scholarships, respectively. In 2005 Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek moderated the final competition. The Bee is an educational program of the National Geographic Society and is produced by Maryland Public Television.

Sebago Fifth-grader Isaiah Perez
concentrates on one of the
questions in the school Geography Bee.
Photo by Kayla Olsen

This is the 4th year that Sebago Elementary has taken part in the competition. There were several preliminary rounds of questions for the 65 students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Nine finalists were selected to take part in the Geography Bee finals. Tiana-jo Carter, Maria Kolofsky, and Taylor Kwaak represented the 4th grade. The 5th grade finalists were Isaiah Perez, Justin Chadwick and Kylie Marshall. And Olivia Floyd, Ben Kwaak, and Rowan Wallace represented the 6th grade.

The finalists sat in chairs at the front of the school cafeteria facing the entire student body, while I read 20 questions to them. They each had 15 seconds to write their answer on a small white board, and the judges recorded their answers and tallied the totals.

Five were selected for a second round of 20 questions. Perez, Marshall and Wallace made it to the final round where they were given 10 more questions.

Their last question was "During the 1700s people traveled along El Camino Real, or the Royal Road, which stretched from Santa Fe to which present-day national capital city?"

"The correct answer was Mexico City," I said. Perez answered this correctly, along with 2/3rds of the other questions. "I like to read," he said, when I congratulated him on his win. "And I like to learn about other places around the world."

"Isaiah is 10 years old and loves geography," said his mother, Pam Charette. "He has two world globes, and I sometime find that he has taken maps to bed with him and he has fallen asleep with them surrounding him. I think he is going to be a world traveler, or at least a good student of world history."

Perez' 5th grade teacher, Cassie Smith, is just as proud of him. He is one of her better students, bright and eager to learn. "Isaiah is a pleasure to teach, and we are proud that he has made it to the semifinals. I hope that he does well in his competition so he can go on to the national level."

Sebago Elementary Principal Andrea Lane (l)
confers with Pauline Lyons,
coordinator of the Geography Bee.
Photo by Allen Crabtree

Pauline Lyons, the Sebago Elementary School coordinator for the Bee is also hopeful about Perez's chances. "We had a young lad, Vincent Audo, who was school champion for 2 years when he was in the 5th and 6th grade. He went on to be one of the 100 best geography students at the state level."

Out of more than 200 Maine schools who competed this year three Sebago Lakes Region schools are sending champions to the Maine State semifinals. Perez will represent Sebago Elementary, and Michael Triglione, a fifth grader from Stevens Brook Elementary and Alex Nowinski, a sixth grader from Crooked River Elementary will join him for the competition in Farmington.

The champion that emerges from the Farmington competition will represent the State of Maine in some very tough competition at the national bee from much older students. For example, Jonathan Brock, an 8th grader from Sanford Junior High School, was the 2005 Maine champion but was not successful when he went to Washington to compete at the national level. He lost to a 13-year old from Minnesota.

Perez is eager for the competitions and loves geography. Who knows how well he will do. Regardless, Sebago Elementary has a new Geography Bee champion and is proud of him.

Last updated March 16, 2006

Copyright © 2006, Allen Crabtree