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Spencer Rendahl: Beyond Borders

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
At the NH Bee, each contestant was asked at registration to use a sticker to mark on the map the location of their school.

At a time when the U.S. is tending to look inward with proposed walls and tariffs, kids across the country have instead been looking beyond our borders. Last Friday, about a hundred kids from grades four through eight gathered in Keene, New Hampshire, Castleton, Vermont, and in each of the remaining forty eight states to answer questions like:

What Tanzanian City means “House of Peace” in Arabic? Dar es Salaam.

What city that sits on the Main River is home of the European Central Bank? Frankfort.

And what country sits on the Mid-Atlantic ridge? Iceland.

Employing a broad knowledge of history, economics, linguistics, biology, and even geology, kids answered these and other challenging questions correctly in last year’s state geography bee finals.

Any school – public, private, and even groups of homeschoolers – with a minimum of six eligible students can register. My daughter, a seventh grader, represented her school of about two hundred kids in New Hampshire’s bee for the second time. Last year a kid competed from our neighboring town of Cornish, with a k through eight school with less than a hundred kids. Each school winner moves on to the qualifying round, which is a proctored online test. This is an equalizer, because only school winners within the highest hundred scores get the spots in the state finals, regardless of school size or location.

The National Geographic website states that about ten thousand schools across the country participate and lists the names of kids who go to each state final and the schools and towns they represent.

At Vermont’s GeoBee, most competitors came from the greater Burlington area, the state’s biggest population center. Smaller and more rural schools in Tunbridge, Peacham, and Sheffield also had contestants, but no participants from the Northeast Kingdom’s Island Pond or Newport.

Southern New Hampshire had ample representation this year. But participation thinned out north of Lyme. Plymouth and Rumney sent competitors, but no one came from Gorham, Berlin, or Pittsburg. The state final had a question about the Kancamangus Highway, but only one competitor in the state – from Littleton - lived north of it. In future years, I hope to see wider representation.

Each state winner goes to the National Bee in Washington DC in May, and that champion receives fifty thousand dollars in college scholarship money. But every competitor – and observer – who becomes more curious and knowledgeable about the wider world wins - and the country benefits.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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