WASHINGTON – Two weeks ago Zaroug Jaleel,14,traveled from Lexington,Mass.,to compete in the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl with schoolmates from Jonas Clarke Middle School. The eighth-grader placed second in the competition. His team won $500 for their middle school science department and “a bunch of cool calculators.”
This week the Clarke Science Bowl team captain is back in D.C. and counting on his love for geography to win a college scholarship and the title of 2009 National Geographic Bee champion.
“The reason I am in the geography bee is because there is no history bee,” the history fanatic said. “The next closest thing is geography.”
After advancing from the semifinals round Tuesday,Jaleel and nine other finalists will compete Wednesday in the 21st annual National Geographic Bee at the Washington Plaza Hotel. “Jeopardy's” Alex Trebek will moderate the final round.
The 10 finalists,who have already won $500,have the chance of winning a $25,000 scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. The champion also will win a trip to the Galapagos Islands and will explore geography firsthand with Trebek. Second- and third-place winners will receive college scholarships of $15,000 and $10,000,respectively.
The preliminary rounds,in which 55 semi-finalists competed,took place Tuesday. The semifinalists,fourth- to eighth-grade students,ranging in age from 9 to 15,were all winners of their state-level geographic bees. Outshining nearly 5 million students to earn a place in nationals,the students represented the 50 states,the District of Columbia,Puerto Rico,the U.S. Virgin Islands,the Pacific Territories and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools.
The students competed in 10 rounds,including a practice round. Categories ranged from country subdivisions to current events to analogies.
Arjun Kandaswamy,14,from Beaverton,Ore.,said he felt excited and pressured. It has been almost two years since the eighth-grade Meadow Park Middle School student made it to the state level. The first time he went as a fifth-grader. “I'd gained so much knowledge so I decided to put it to use,” he said.
Because the final round will air Wednesday nationally on the National Geographic Channel,Kandaswany came into the competition focused on one goal: “Getting here is great,but getting on TV was my ultimate goal.”
“I guess it just shows that hard work pays off,” he said.
In between crafting chess strategies,Eric Yang a seventh-grader at Griffin Middle School in The Colony,Texas,studied every day for three hours for the same opportunity. He read everything he could get his hands on. For him,”it's interesting to learn about the world and how everything came to be as it is today.”
The 13-year-old pianist,who has won first place three times in the Dallas Jazz Competition,admitted he had to think twice before anwering some of the questions. But since his third-place finish in the 2008 Texas Geographic Bee,he said he built on what he already had learned and was pretty confident in answering most of his questions.
After not making it to the national competition his sixth- and seventh-grade years,Jaleel said is grateful to advance for three reasons: “This is my first time making it to the nationals. I get to meet Alex Trebek and be on TV.”
Info Box: 2009 National Geographic Bee Finalists
Flagstaff Home Educators
Archimedean Middle Conservatory
Thayer J. Hill Middle School
Jonas Clarke Middle School
Ligon Middle School
Meadow Park Middle School
Griffin Middle School
Farmington Junior High School
Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk Elementary School