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6 Local Students Ready to Take on the World

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spouting off the state capitals is a piece of cake for eighth-grader Daniel Shields, a home-schooled Fillmore student going to the 10th annual state Geography Bee in Sacramento on Friday.

It’s a question about black pepper being native to what country in South Asia (answer: India) that is more likely to stump him.

“The capitals are the easiest part,” Daniel said. “You really have to know other things, like the general feel for the layout of the land, and about vegetation, climate, economy, religion and other cultures.”

Daniel and five other Ventura County students--the most ever--will head to the state bee, with the hopes of qualifying for the national championships in Washington, D.C., and a chance at winning a $25,000 scholarship.

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“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek will moderate the national competition, which will be aired May 20 on local PBS stations.

Other Ventura County students participating are Katie Gose, a Camarillo sixth-grader at Las Colinas School; Matthew Lee, a Newbury Park sixth-grader at Sequoia Middle School; Thomas Tarn, a Simi Valley eighth-grader at Valley View Middle School; Steven Smitha, a Ventura fifth-grader at Elmhurst Elementary School, and Julie Yip, an Oxnard eighth-grader who is home-schooled through the Assn. of Christian Home Educators of Ventura County.

So far, no Ventura County student has won the state Geography Bee, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Sylvan Learning Centers. And no one from California has won the national bee.

For Ventura County to send six students this year is a good indicator that some of its teachers are taking geography more seriously--which is the point of the whole contest, said state bee coordinator Stephen F. Cunha.

In past years, San Francisco and San Diego have been the strongest players, Cunha said.

The number of undergraduate geography majors in U.S. colleges grew by 47% between 1986 and 1993, and enrollment in graduate geography programs increased by one-third between 1985 and 1991, according to the National Geographic Society.

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“As the world shrinks, you can’t just know your state,” said society spokeswoman Ellen Siskind. “Americans need to know the world.”

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With that in mind, the six Ventura County geography experts are spending their final days before the bee reading historical fiction, playing the computer game Geo Safari and thumbing through atlases.

But even then, how will they know if the judges will ask them whether “pula” (which means “rain”) is the currency in Botswana, or wither Sao Paulo is the most populous city in the Southern Hemisphere?

“It’s impossible to study for,” said Katie, who described her feelings as anxious, not excited, for the elimination rounds. “The questions cover such a wide range.”


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