Six area students headed to Harrisburg for State Geography Bee
Six local students are trekking through rocky terrain and sailing through uncharted waters, metaphorically, in attempting to journey to the 29th Annual National Geography Bee.
Anthony Wiles from the North Hills School District; Samuel Stella from Pine-Richland; Collin Wang, William Mensch and Lucas Rodgers from North Allegheny and Jillian Mercer from Aquinas Academy in Hampton won their local geography bee and now will face 94 other contestants from throughout Pennsylvania during the state-wide competition in Harrisburg on Friday.
The state winner advances to the national competition in Washington, D.C. in May.
The competition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, is open to students in grades 4 to 8 and tests their knowledge of the United States, other countries and the planet’s physical features. It is designed to inspire and reward young people’s curiosity about the world.
About 11,000 schools nationwide — 422 in Pennsylvania — participated in the geography bee, starting at the initial level, the school bee. Each school’s winner then took an online test and the top 100 scorers in each state qualified for the statewide competition.
Seventh-grader Wiles’ passion for American history helped propel him to victory at the North Hills Middle School bee, where he and his peers were quizzed about topics like Poland’s currency (the zloty), the official religion of Mauritania (Islam), the location of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (Nepal), and more.
During the final round, Wiles, 13, of Ross, was asked, “In which ocean is the Mariana Trench?”
“I remembered reading a book about World War II and our fight with Japan. The Mariana Trench was mentioned in that book, so I realized it was in the Pacific,” he said.
North Allegheny’s Marshall Middle School held the bee as an all-school assembly in the auditorium so the entire student body could watch.
For the final question to win, seventh-grader Mensch, 13, was asked to name the second largest city in Bhutan. “Punakha,” came the correct answer. Mensch’s classmates went wild, storming the stage. according to his mother, Catherine.
Mensch credits his grandparents for his interest in geography.
“They’re world travelers and they tell me stories,” he said.
They gave him an atlas when he was 5 and he read every night before going to bed.
“I love learning and going to new places,” he said, noting that he has been to 14 different states. He’s looking forward to his grandparents’ return from Tanzania and a safari in South Africa and they’re taking him to Scotland and England this summer.
Fifth-grader Wang, 11, won North Allegheny’s Franklin Elementary bee by answering the question, “Between what two countries is the second highest mountain in the world located?” (Pakistan and China)
“I was exhilarated and upbeat when I found out I won,” he said. “Usually with these kinds of competitions, my mom thinks I’m going to do badly, but I always surprise her.”
Mercer, 13, will be heading to Harrisburg for the second time after making it to states as a fifth grader in 2015. She lost in an early round.
“In fifth grade, I was really surprised when I won (at my school) because I didn’t know I was so good at geography,” she said. “Now it’s one of my favorite subjects.”
Wiles said he is working diligently to prepare for the upcoming state bee and hopefully, the National Geography Bee after that.
“I study when I get up in the morning, as soon as I get home from school, and right before I go to bed at night,” he said.
The national winner receives a $50,000 college scholarship and an all-expenses-paid expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the new National Geographic Endeavour ll.
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.