• Sixth-grader Ian Gabalski (left) is applauded by fifth-grader Brian Boye after Ian won the Geography Bee at Holy Trinity School in Webster Jan. 10. Boye was runner-up in the competition.

Webster students take worldly view

By Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009


WEBSTER -- Know what country Mount Olympus is in? Or where Kathmandu, the site of recent pro-democracy demonstrations, is located?

If your answers were Greece and Nepal, respectively, then you accomplished something nobody else at Holy Trinity School could -- match Ian Gabalski's knowledge in a geography-bee championship round.

Ian, a sixth-grader, answered those two questions correctly to win the school bee, held Jan. 10. He has polished his global knowledge by taking part in the school's Passport Club, which is now in its third year.

Holy Trinity adopted the Passport Club idea from its Webster neighbor, St. Rita School, which founded a club in 2002. Passport Club provides elementary-school students in grades 3-6 a fun way of studying geography throughout the year. It includes five learning levels, from introductory to the "Geo-Whiz" fifth level.

According to Emily Sutley, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Rita, fourth-level students should know every country in the world and where to find it, and by the fifth level they should know a number of the capital cities as well as details about continents, oceans, seas, deserts and mountain ranges. For instance, for their January assignment, first-level students were required to locate such countries as China, New Zealand and Pakistan, whereas fifth-level youths had to know the capitals as well (Beijing, Wellington and Islamabad, respectively.)

Each Passport Club participant is issued a booklet resembling an actual passport. During monthly testing of their knowledge, students earn postage stamps from around the world that are placed in their passports. They can prepare for the testing both at home and during class time. A large world map hangs on one wall in Sutley's classroom to assist students.

Passport Club originated in the state of Washington in 1994, and now operates in several states and foreign countries. The club also appears to be a growing phenomenon in the Rochester Diocese. It's in its first year at St. John the Evangelist School in Spencerport, and exists at several other schools as well: principals from St. Louis School, Pittsford; St. John Neumann, Irondequoit; Good Shepherd, Henrietta; Seton Catholic, Brighton; and St. John of Rochester, Fairport all reported having a Passport Club program.

Sutley said it's important to have a scholastic initiative focusing on geography beyond the United States because "I think we're living in a day and age when we're becoming more of a world community."

Back at Holy Trinity, Ian is now hoping to qualify for the National Geographic Bee state competition in March. State winners then go on to the national tournament in May. According to JoAnn Campbell, the school's education-technology coordinator, this is Holy Trinity's 12th year of taking part in the National Geographic competition.

For the school bee, 10 finalists from grades 4, 5 and 6 went through elimination rounds, answering such questions as the state locations of national parks -- for example, Everglades is in Florida; Glacier is in Montana; and Acadia is in Maine. They held up their written responses for the student audience to see, a la "Jeopardy!"

Ian, 11, defeated Brian Boye, a fifth-grader, in the final round. He said he knew Kathmandu was in Nepal because "I was really into Mount Everest (located on the Nepal-Tibet border) a few years ago."

Ian noted that he enjoys following current world news. His mother, Maureen Gabalski -- who also serves as the school's Passport Club coordinator -- said connecting headlines with country locations is a good practice for all geography buffs.

"It makes it more interesting when they can tie in certain events," Gabalski said.

How do these geographic pursuits affect students' travel aspirations? St. Rita sixth-grader Josh Schum, 11, said he'd like to visit some European countries to take in the many historical sites. Classmate Alex Alfieri, also 11, is a soccer buff and therefore favors Brazil.

"Their main sport is soccer," he said.

So where do you suppose Ian, with his considerable grasp of world geography, wants to go? Try a hockey arena a mere 75 miles to the west.

"If you want me to be honest, the (Buffalo) Sabres games," he said with a grin.

 

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