WHICH RIVER forms most of the border between Washington and Oregon? What mountainous European country is made up of 2,000 scattered islands? Where in the world is Mecca?
These are a few of the questions posed to fourth- and fifth-graders at Jeffers Hill Elementary School's Geography Bee last week. This is the third year the event has been held at the school, but Principal Steve Zagami said, "This is my eighth or ninth time."
The geography buff also held geography bees at his former school, Hammond Elementary.
"Personally, geography is a great area of interest for me," Zagami said.
The material and rules for the geography bee were provided by the National Geographic Society. Winners at the school level take a written geography test to determine their participation in a statewide competition sponsored by National Geographic. If they pass the test, they will represent their school in statewide competition.
Since the questions are geared to fourth- through eighth-graders, usually middle school children win the spots in the state competition, Zagami said.
"It would be unusual for an elementary school to make it to state level," Zagami said.
He uses the geography bee as an opportunity for youngsters of varying academic levels to try something new and challenging without the pressure of being graded.
The contest followed strict bee protocol. Zagami read the questions and allowed pupils 15 seconds to answer.
Leslie Brickner, a fourth-grade teacher, served as judge, and Kevin Donoughe, also a fourth-grade teacher, kept score. On the stage, the contestants sailed through the first three rounds of multiple-choice questions, which became increasingly difficult. Hands started to wring nervously by round four, when the pupils were no longer given a choice of possible answers.
By the time the questions addressed matters such as the location of the habitat of the endangered Indigo snake, even the parents in the audience were on the edge of their seats.
"Some of these questions are so hard," said Sarah Beach, whose son, Matthew, was competing.
Milissa Rhodes, mother of fifth-grade contestant Kelly Rhodes, agreed. "I barely know the answers," she said. "If I miss them, how will they get them?"
After seven rounds, the group was narrowed to five finalists: fifth-graders Matthew Beach, Dana Chaikin and Jordan McGill, and fourth-graders Brett Self and Jason Victor.
"We need Matthew to get a question about Virginia," said his mother, explaining that Matthew's father, Ed Beach, is a Civil War historian.
Matthew grinned at his parents from the stage when he later answered a question about the Gettysburg Civil War battlefields. He went on to win the bee, with Jason Victor first runner-up.
Other contestants were fourth-graders Hillary Brewer, Makeda Carroll, David Keeton, Elizabeth Kimble, Moises Maldanado, Andreas Mitchell and Katy Rennenkampf, and fifth-graders Samah Beg, Michele Czarnecki, Nicole Czarnecki, Aisha Henderson, Rashida Henderson, Kristen Hise, Darnell Jenkins, Rachel Snell, Obi Ukwuoma and Jessica Ur.
Senior travel help
If you are a senior adult who is interested in travel, the east Columbia branch library has just the ticket.
A program called "Senior Surfing: Travel" will explore resources such as books and Internet sites that can be used in planning vacations, making reservations and buying tickets.
The program will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 29.
Information and registration: 410-313-7700.
Tips about pruning
Now is the time of year to think about pruning, and the master gardeners from the Howard County Extension Service are ready to help.
A free seminar will be offered from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 25 at Amherst House in Kings Contrivance Village Center.
A consultant will discuss when and how to prune trees and shrubs, and demonstrate the use of tools and techniques.
Refreshments will be served.
Registration and information: 410-381-9600.
Kings Contrivance resident Sandy Schrader knows her geography firsthand.
The legislative assistant to state Sen. Martin G. Madden spent part of the 1980s traveling the world, from Guam to Europe, with her husband, Dennis, who was on active duty with the Navy.
For Schrader, the 2 1/2 years she spent living in Sicily, Italy, were the most delightful - and unusual.
"We lived in a little town on Mount Etna," she said, adding that the volcano erupted several times.
But that was not the most unusual part of her experience, she said. The most distinctive thing, according to Schrader, was a local dish that became a favorite.
"Pasta made with sauce from the ink of the squid," she said. "I don't recall ever having it since we've been back in the States."