December 8, 2012
Geography wiz preps for state competition
Cortland seventh-grader wins school’s annual National Geographic Geography Bee
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland Junior High School seventh-grader Jonathan Chu has won the school’s National Geographic Geography Bee and is preparing to compete in the contest statewide.
Jonathan Chu is a seventh-grader who likes science enough to think about studying chemical engineering in college.
But the Cortland Junior High School student also enjoys learning about the world’s landscape and its impact on human history.
Chu earned first place recently in the Cortland Enlarged City School District’s competition for grades four through eight in the National Geographic Bee, a national competition which is celebrating its 25th year.
Chu scored first out of 16 students on an oral exam, naming such things as the nations that share the Tierra del Fuego islands (answer: Argentina and Chile) or the state drained by the Arkansas and Red rivers (answer: Oklahoma).
He is now preparing for a written exam in January, the second round, which will lead to state competition in April. The top 100 scorers on that exam will qualify for the state test, and the top qualifiers from that will compete in the national bee in May, in Washington, D.C.
The top prize in the national bee, which will be moderated by “Jeopardy!” show host Alex Trebek, is a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Cortland’s second-place student was seventh-grader Corbin Ryan and the third-place student was seventh-grader Isabelle Hart. This year’s bee was on Nov. 29.
“I’m fascinated by the study of geography and how it shapes history,” Chu said. “How it shapes battles, for example, or Columbus sailing for what he thought was Asia when it was actually the Americas. It’s the history of mankind.”
Chu studied for hours to prepare for the oral exam, focusing on land forms such as mountains and plateaus, bays, rivers, and on human structures such as famous buildings.
The school district has conducted the district bee since 2002, when Rich Burrell was the social studies teacher who coordinated it. Now the coordinators are social studies teachers Cory Giroux and Kathryn Rhinehart, and enrichment teacher Colleen North.
Homer Intermediate School also conducts the geography bee. Reading teacher Karen Shirley, who coordinates it, said Homer chose to create a written exam, which will be given on Dec. 19. The second round, for the top 10 students, will be Jan. 7.
Giroux said he would be interested in hearing about Homer’s approach.
“This is a great program, I like it as a way to promote geography outside of class,” Giroux said.
Burrell, who retired two years ago and was replaced by Giroux, said it is important to understand history and how geography shapes it.
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