White Sands School awarded the first place Geography Bee award to a 7th grader at its annual Geography Bee held at the school library, Dec. 17. Austin Smith beat out 12 contestants at the morning competition that tested the student’s knowledge on states, countries, and continents.
Christopher Brown, chair of New Mexico State University’s Geography Department, attended the event and brought along four NMSU Graduate students from the Geography Department to assist in asking the students the questions and keeping score. The 12 students who were chosen for the competition were mainly middle school students with the exception of fifth grader, Ruby Garcia. After the seventh round, three finalists were chosen to compete in the championship round. All three students to advance to the championship round were seventh graders.
‘The Geography Bee is a tremendous amount of fun. Geography can inform your life,” Brown said.
“In preparation of your life I encourage you all to do two things; take every opportunity to travel and spend as much time as you can to look at maps,” Brown added at the end of the competition.
The annual competition, hosted by the school’s library, is coordinated by John Gwyn, White Sands School Social Studies teacher. This is the fourth and final year Gwyn will be coordinating the event as he will be retiring at the end of this week after 40 years of teaching both Language Arts and Social Studies. Gwyn, who has been teaching at White Sands for the past 10 years, said he enjoys teaching middle school students because he considers them to be at an age where they are wide-eyed, teachable, and fun.
“I have thousands of fond memories but knowing that the kids are learning and seeing them learn and have fun (is my fondest),” Gwyn said. “I’m going to miss the kids, miss the staff, and my work career.”
The final three competitors went through three additional rounds where an additional competitor was eliminated. The remaining two students were asked three questions at the same time and had to write their answers on a flash card. Smith answered two out of the three questions correctly and will be moving on for a chance to compete for a $50,000 prize in the national competition in Washington, D.C. with host, Alex Trebek. Leo Ortiz was awarded the second place certificate and Crystal Garcia was awarded the third place certificate.
As the White Sands School champion, Smith was awarded a medal and will have to mail in a written test to the National Geographic Society Geography Bee and if he is graded as one of the top 100 students in New Mexico he will move on to the state competition held in Albuquerque, April 4, 2014.