When Johnathan Morris was 5, his grandpa showed him a globe and some maps and taught him the basics of geography.
Now, at age 11, the fifth-grader is the first Struthers Middle School semifinalist in recent memory who’s eligible to compete in the Ohio National Geographic Bee.
“He’s the first one [who has] passed the test that we’ve had,” said Anton Kos, coordinator of the geography bee and a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the middle school. “We’re excited to have a fifth-grader [competing].”
To be eligible for the state bee, students first had to win a geography bee at their school. Then, competitors had to score in the statewide top 100 on a qualifying test.
This year’s 25th annual state bee will be Friday at Grandview Heights High School in Columbus.
With just a week to go before the state bee, Johnathan has been studying a half-hour to 45 minutes per day. He has purchased books and subscribed to websites to help him prepare. But to Johnathan, whose favorite class is social studies, learning about geography is a hobby — and one he’d probably pursue even if he wasn’t getting ready to compete.
“I like looking at maps,” he said. “I like finding new places.”
Pete Pirone, school principal, has known Johnathan since he was a kindergartner. Even then, Pirone said, it was
apparent the student’s knowledge of geography and social studies far exceeded that of his classmates.
“Johnathan is a bright young man,” Pirone said. “He’s only a fifth-grader, so what else can he do in the next couple of years? We’re excited to see how he does down there. Just getting to the state level is a tremendous feat. Maybe he can make it an annual trip.”
Accompanying Johnathan to the state bee will be his parents, Monte and Kerri; his sisters, 6-year-old Katie and 7-year-old Emma; his grandparents; several other family members; and Kos.
Everyone, both family and friends, has been “really supportive,” Johnathan said.
At the state bee, he will compete against fourth- through eighth-graders. If he wins on the state level, he will receive $100, the “Complete National Geographic” on DVD, and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Geographic Bee finals May 20-22.
The national winner receives a $25,000 scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
“My goal is to do good in state. I’d like to win it. If so, I want to do good in nationals,” Johnathan said.
Kos said judging by a recent study session, he’ll do “very well” at the state bee. Johnathan is easily able to picture in his mind where places are on the globe, Kos said.
“He’s got a right-on thinking process,” Kos said. “Just to be able to understand geography about our world is important.”