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Lakes Region students compete at State Geographic Bee semifinals

May 4, 2006

The top 100 geography scholars from Maine's 4th through 8th grades gathered at the University of Maine at Farmington Olsen Student Center on March 31 for the state semifinals of the National Geographic Bee. Three Lakes Region students from School Administrative District 61 (SAD61) were there, representing elementary schools at Sebago, Casco and Bridgton.

The semifinals were tough with a series of oral questions testing each student's knowledge of US and world geography, and although the SAD61 students gave it their best it wasn't quite good enough to win the coveted title of "best of Maine's geography scholars." That honor went to Alexander Homer (13) an Ellsworth Middle School student.

To get to the state semifinals, each of the 100 geography scholars had bested their schoolmates at local competitions. More than 200 Maine elementary and middle schools took part in the local rounds. The local winners then took a follow-on written qualifying test that was scored at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, and the top 100 were selected to compete in the state semifinals.

Three Lakes Region students recently competed
in the State semifinals of the National Geographic Bee
at USM Farmington. Shown here (l-r) are
Alex Nowiski, (6th grader from the Crooked River
Elementary School in Casco),Isaiah Perez, (5th grader
from Sebago Elementary in Sebago),
and Michael Triglione, (5th grader from Stevens Brook
Elementary in Bridgton).
Photo by Allen Crabtree

Three Lakes Region students scored very well and were chosen for the state semifinals. They were Isaiah Perez, a Sebago Elementary 5th grader, Michael Triglione, a 5th grader from Stevens Brook Elementary in Bridgton, and Alex Nowinski, a 6th grader from Crooked River Elementary in Casco.

This is the 18th year that National Geographic has been putting on the Geographic Bee. Students from the 4th through the 8th grades all over the country 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.

The State Semifinals

The North Dining Hall at the UofM Farmington Olsen Student Center was filled with the nervous state semifinalists. Each of them had brought parents and/or teachers with them, who were just as nervous as the students. After a few welcoming remarks, the semifinalists were randomly divided into 5 groups of 20 each. Each group was assigned to a separate room at the center, where they were seated in two rows of chairs facing a moderator, judge and scorekeeper.

Sebago Elementary 5th grader Isaiah
Perez made a good showing at the
preliminary rounds of the
State Geographic Bee semifinals.
He is shown here with his teacher
Cassandra Caton Smith (l) and his
mother Pam Charette.
Photo by Allen Crabtree

The moderators asked each semifinalist a separate question, for a total of eight rounds of questions in the preliminaries. The questions tested the semifinalist knowledge of national and world geography as well as geography and current events, geography and history, and geography and economics.

"Isaiah, what term is used to describe fractures in the earth's crust?" asked Diane Smith, moderator for Perez' group of twenty semifinalists. "Is it a 'slump" or a 'fault'?"

"Fault," answered Perez.

"Correct," said Smith and turned to Matthew Duranleau from South Portland for the next question.

I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, answering the questions in my head and trying to mentally send the answer to the students. It is a good thing that my mental telepathy didn't work, because a number of times I didn't get the answer right. Some times I didn't have a clue! My knowledge of the new nations of the world is not what it should be and, especially where Africa is concerned. I remember countries that existed when I went to school and am not always clear about the new nations and their names.

Sebago Elementary 5th grader Isaiah Perez
tied for third place in one of the preliminary rounds
at the State Geographic Bee semifinals.
Photo by Allen Crabtree

Perez correctly answered the first three questions, and then missed the fourth when he incorrectly identified an island that is not part of Indonesia (Luzon). He then went on to miss questions five (one about Rwanda) and six (one about Mongolia), but came strongly back to answer the last two correctly. Overall he answered 5 of 8 questions correctly, which put him in a tie for third place in his group of 20 contestants. Madeline Sherrill of Nobleboro was the top scholar, answering 7 of 8, followed by William Lenk of Portland with 6 of 8 correct.

In the other four rooms, similar events were unfolding. When all the results had been tallied those that had 8 correct made it to the finals, and those that had scored 7 correct went to a tiebreaker session to identify those to go to the finals. The top 10 scorers from the semifinals competed in an elimination round with 8 questions, leading to a final round with 3 questions.

Alexander Homer had answered 7 out of 8 correctly in his preliminary round and made it into the top 10 finalists. His perfect score in the 8-question elimination round and in the 3-question final round earned him the right to compete in the national contest in Washington, DC. State runner-ups were Christian Schneider (14) from Brunswick Jr. High in Brunswick who came in second overall, and Adam Meservier from St. Peter and Sacred Heart School in Auburn who was third overall.

The National Finals

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. 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.

The 2005 winner of the National Finals was Nathan Cornelius, a 7th grader from Minnesota. His winning question was "Lake Gatun, an artificial lake that constitutes part of the Panama Canal system, was created by damming which river?" His correct answer "The Chagres River" won him a $25,000 scholarship and the envy of all the millions of geography scholars who had competed with him.

The national winners have usually been 7th or 8th graders. In the last 14 years, only once has a 5th grader won. This is a measure of the very stiff competition of the contest, but also means that our local 5th and 6th grade geographers have several more years to learn and hone their skills in future competitions. Wouldn't it be nice to have one or all of these three lads back at the state semifinals next year and have one of them go on to the nationals!

Last updated May 7, 2006

Copyright © 2006, Allen Crabtree

Published in the Portland Press Herald, Neighbors Section