GeoBee draws a cheering crowd

naustin@modbee.comJanuary 10, 2014 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— Introduced by a bass-thumping backbeat, the National Geographic Bee had a standing-room-only crowd on the edges of its seats, or toes, at the Whitmore Charter School of Art and Technology on Friday.

Ten middle school students competed, survivors of seven previous elimination rounds. They spent lunches for the past two weeks studying up for the event with social studies teacher Matt Hutsell. He said the GeoBee does as much for the rest of the school as it does for the contestants.

“It’s cool to see the other kids seeing them as role models. It makes learning fun and it makes learning cool – and that doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

Half the group went down in the first round, tripped up by questions on U.S. lakes, mountains and history. Then there was the second-round knockout question: The Polynesian islands lie in what ocean?

If you didn’t guess the Pacific, you’re in good company. Only three kids got it right. A final-round question asked for the European country that includes Cologne. Groans slipped out when sixth-grader Paige Janich guessed England. “France,” sighed several audience members. Wrong again – it’s in Germany.

At last it came down to two eighth-graders, Nathan Curry and Marlee Baker, and three questions:

• Portland, by Casco Bay, is the eastern terminus of an oil line from Montreal and lies in which state?

• The Potomac River empties into what bay?

• What country includes the Taklamakan Desert and the Kunlun Mountains, and is home to the Weigers?

Neither got that last question (China), and much of the audience looked stumped as well. For those drawing a blank, Portland is in Maine and the Potomac empties into Chesapeake Bay.

Drum roll please: Marlee Baker will be the name etched on the school National Geographic plaque. She takes a written test to qualify for the state contest in April.

Nathan, carrying the second-place prize of a package of Reese’s peanut butter cups, said he didn’t feel nervous in front of the crowd. “I just had a lot of fun,” he said.

Nathan’s mother, video recording on her smart phone, said her son didn’t stress over it. “Honestly, he didn’t study a lot. He’s just really smart,” Laura Curry said.

Seventh-grade competitor Taleyna Sengsoury called the bee “really fun. I liked the suspense.”

“Yeah, the suspense was the best,” agreed sixth-grade GeoBee competitor Lily Sengsoury, her cousin.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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