As Geography Bee Entrants Compete, Bill Urges More World Study in Schools

Sidharth Verma, 12, is the Virginia geography contest champion.
Sidharth Verma, 12, is the Virginia geography contest champion. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009

Politicians fret these days about how U.S. students stack up in math and science compared with peers in India, China, Singapore and elsewhere. Some of them wonder how many American children could find those countries on a globe. Such talk is driving an effort in Congress to ensure that students learn more about other countries and cultures.

Critics of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school, say it has pushed subjects including geography, history and art to the side.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and other lawmakers are trying to change that with a bill called the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. The legislation would provide funds for teacher training, research and development of instructional materials.

Van Hollen said he has been distressed by surveys showing that students in the United States have a poor grasp of geography. He said the bill has bipartisan support and 70 co-sponsors.

"We are now in a world where we have to compete globally," Van Hollen said. "It's important for American students to understand the geography of the world they are living in."

Bound for the Bee

Some students don't need new laws to encourage them to study geography.

This month, 55 elementary and middle school students from across the country who share a passion for globes and maps will converge in the District for the annual National Geographic Bee. The competitors demonstrated their smarts by winning state-level bees April 3.

Two local students will face off in the May 20 competition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Sidharth Verma, 12, a seventh-grader at Rachel Carson Middle School in Fairfax County, was the Virginia champion. Michael Laskowski, 13, in seventh grade at St. Anselm's Abbey School, bested other students in the District.

The Maryland winner, James Devinne, is a sixth-grader at Dumbarton Middle School in Baltimore.

The students already have won $100, a world atlas and the trip to the District for the competition. First prize in the national bee is a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. The champion, along with one parent, also wins a trip to the Galapagos Islands with Alex Trebek, host of "Jeopardy!" and moderator of the national bee.

The runner-up will receive a $15,000 scholarship. The third-place prize is a $10,000 scholarship.

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