Geography bee contestants are wise to the world

March 31, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Geography Bee

Five elementary and middle school students in Washington County know a lot about the world.

They rattle off facts about longitude and latitude, ask for atlases for Christmas and join their parents' conversations about issues abroad.

Fifth-grader Samuel Birnbaum's boyish looks are in contrast to his adult-like analysis of academic issues.

Birnbaum said he became interested in other countries after he learned his parents met in Africa.

"They were always telling me stuff about what happened and I wanted to know more," said Birnbaum, who attends Sharpsburg Elementary School.


Birnbaum is one of five Washington County students who will compete Friday in the Maryland Geography Bee. They advanced to the state competition after receiving top scores in contests at their schools.

The other students, all eighth-graders, are Bradley Cline, who attends Clear Spring Middle School; Christopher Huntzberry, of Western Heights Middle School; Adam Ward, of Northern Middle School and Michael Vaverchak a student at E. Russell Hicks.

The National Geographic Society sponsors the annual contest. After winners are determined at individual schools, the students must take a written test of 70 questions.

The top 100 scorers across the state advance to their respective state competitions, according to National Geographic Society officials.

The National Geographic Society holds the competition to emphasize the importance of the study of the world, especially these days, said Mary Lee Eldon, director of the National Geography Bee in Washington, D.C.

With increased emphasis on a global economy and the ability of the World Wide Web to provide information from anywhere in the world, "You can say it's a smaller world," said Eldon.

Bee questions cover a range of topics, and deal with everything from the New York Stock Exchange to olive-producing countries.

A sample question tells students that "pula" is the name of the currency in an African country that is covered in large part by the Kalahari Desert.

The country? Botswana.

"I'm telling you, the questions are really tough," said Ed Koogle, supervisor of social studies for grades 6-12.

The 100 top scorers from Maryland will compete for the state championship at Montgomery Community College near Gaithersburg, Md., on April 3.

The 100 participants, grouped in five rooms, will answer a battery of questions. The top two students from each class will move to the final round, which involves a series of oral questions placed to the students in front of an audience, said contest spokeswoman Ellen Suskind.

The winner of the state bee will win $100 and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Geography Bee May 19 and 20. "Jeopardy!" quiz show host Alex Trebek will moderate the national competition for the 10th year, contest officials said.

The winner of the national competition wins a $25,000 scholarship and a trip to Hong Kong.

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