Monday, December 13, 2010

London Calling

Miguel entered the qualifier for the school's geography bee as a joke. His friend, Sam, said, "I'll do it if you will."

Miguel said, "OK." They both raised their hands and were entered. He never even told me.

Then he shared last week that he had qualified for the school-wide geography bee held earlier today.

"Miguel, that's great," I said. "How did you do?"


"How many questions were there?"

"Forty," he said. "I got 23 right."

"Wait," I said, driving dangerously close to the side of the road. "You missed 17 out of 40? Just better than 50%?"

While I was proud of his accomplishment, I wondered how someone, even my son, could qualify for a school-wide test of knowledge after only answering slightly better than half the questions.

"The questions were hard," Miguel explained with a hint of defensiveness in his voice.

He then explained that the top 30 kids automatically qualified for today's competition. So, conceivably, one could have missed even more than half the questions and still made it to today's final showdown. Sam was bounced from the preliminary round for talking too much.

"Miguel, you need to study. Did they tell you about some websites with sample questions?" I asked.

"I can Google them," he said.

Turns out that National Geographic, the main sponsor of the geography bees, has sample questions and test-taking advice on its website. There are three or four other free sites as well. We immediately went to them on Friday and Saturday.

"Miguel, the biggest advice is that the question often contains a clue for the answer," I said. As an example I read one question to him: which European country possesses oil reserves and is known for its famous fjords?

He was stumped. I said that the clue is famous fjords. He'd never heard of a fjord. So he didn't know the answer was the country from where his grandfather's ancestors called home, Norway.

I read him another question: which state's climate is suitable for growing citrus fruits, California or Maine?

"Maine," he answered.

"Maine?" I bellowed. "Maine?"

"California," he said meekly.

I then explained how the clue was in the question. Citrus fruits grow best in warm and sunny climates, which would lead one to answer California, a much more temperate state than Maine. I started thinking, "He's going to get creamed. I am proud of him for making the school tournament, but he doesn't know that much."

He did several practices tests and quizzes over the weekend. He said they were hard. They were. Questions such as Dresden, a city that has been rebuilt since WWII, is situated on what river? The three choices are the Darling, the Elbe, or the Thames River. The correct answer is the Elbe. Or name two large islands separated by the Strait of Bonifacio. The choices are Corsica and Sardinia, Corfu and Cephalonia, or North Island and South Island. The correct answer is Corsica and Sardinia.

Miguel went to school late today because he got just two braces and his headgear this morning. Within nine months his whole mouth will be glittering silver.

"I don't want to stay for the tournament," he said. It was held after school. "I barely studied."

"Miguel, you are staying for the geography bee," I said. "You brought your permission slip?"


I told him I'd pick him up outside school at five. He called me at 4:30 and said, "Dad, can you pick me up now? The geography bee is over."

But I couldn't leave work because I was covering the break for one of my staff. One of the teachers helping to proctor the competition volunteered to drop Miguel off.

Miguel advanced to the final round to determine the Miller Creek Middle School 2010 Geography Bee champion. The final question was in which European city would you find the Piccadilly Circus? Miguel thought it was an actual circus and he did not know the answer.

"I guessed the first city that came to me, London," he said. "The other kid, a 6th grader, said Rome."

Miguel was right and was crowned school champion. Next he competes in a regional tournament to decide who goes to the state bee in April in Sacramento. Each state winner will be flown to Washington, DC, all expenses paid, for the chance to win the National Bee and a $25,000 scholarship. Miguel said he plans to study, study, study.

He showed up at work wearing his winner's medal and proudly flashing his winner's certificate. He also got a gift card to Jamba Juice, a specially engraved pen, and a earth globe keychain, which he gave to Maya.

I beamed with pride as he walked into the retirement facility where I work and shouted to two of my colleagues, who were probably discussing work, "Miguel just won his school's geography bee." My voice had jumped at least three or four octaves.

"Miguel, I am so, so proud of you," I said, stunned and amazed and ecstatic.

"I was so nervous in the final round," he said, "I was shaking."

When we left the house a little while later, after retrieving Maya and one of Verna's closest friends, Joan, on our way to a celebratory meal at BJ's, a lone star twinkled just below the moon. We all looked up and greeted Verna.

"Miguel, Mommy would be so proud of you, too," I said, a rush of sadness mixing with the sweetness of his accomplishment.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,

    my name is Enrico and I live in Colorado. Where are you? My daughter is the State Geography Bee champion for Colorado for 2010 and competed in D.C. for Nationals thsi past May. If you are interested, you can read about us and Isabella at the Bee on our Blog:
    she will compete again tomorrow (12/15) in the local school Bee, as she is trying to win again this year.
    You last line prompted me to write to you. It must be sad to raise a child alone and to be without a mom for him. We have adopted a child, so we may find out a little about what that means, as he grows up.
    Maybe, if Miguel is interested, we can give him some study tips to try and tackle the next Geo Bee step and make his dad 9and mom) proud.

    Blessings from Colorado