By Sean Barron
If you wanted to take a train through a rain forest and dance at a Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebration, what country would you need to travel to?
Stumped? Then you might wish to ask AJ Iarussi.
“Brazil,” the seventh-grade Struthers Middle School student replied when asked that question during Friday’s fifth annual National Geographic GeoBee Challenge at the school, 800 Fifth St.
That was one of several correct responses AJ gave during the 90-minute competition, which challenged 26 students in grades five through eight to answer seven rounds of oral and written questions pertaining to U.S. and world geography.
The school bee was the first leg of the 25th annual National Geographic Bee in which participants will compete nationally to win a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.
“My mom’s a history teacher [at Lowellville K-12 School], so I pick up a lot of what she teaches,” said AJ, who won last year’s competition at his school.
Also excited, but a little nervous about the bee, was eighth-grader Danae Gulu, who said she hopes to be an archaeologist.
“I know I’ll be going up against all these people,” she said before the event. “I love geography. I like the history of it, especially of how the world evolved.”
A similar combination of excitement and nerves greeted seventh-grader Jeffrey Gallagher, who said geography was one of his favorite subjects.
Conducting and coordinating the competition was Anton Kos, a seventh-grade social-studies teacher.
Kos divided the questions, many of which were multiple choice, into seven rounds that focused on U.S. geography, geographic comparisons, continents, physical geography, state nicknames and clues from which students were to respond with the correct country.
In one round, the youngsters were to come up with answers that were exceptions to the multiple-choice questions. For example, one student was asked which of three countries does not border the Pacific Ocean, the correct response of which was Belize.
The first-place finisher was fifth-grader Johnathan Morris, who will next take a written test from which the top scorers in each state will be eligible to compete in their states’ bee in early April.
“I feel awesome,” an excited Johnathan said after becoming his school’s 2013 champion. “My jaw is still shaking.”
Also pleased with Johnathan’s performance were his parents, Monte and Kerri Morris.
“They took a written test and the top scorers moved on to this,” Kos explained, referring to the requirement to compete in the school bee.