- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

The 2005 National Geographic Bee was won by a home-schooler, 13-year-old Nathan Cornelius of Cottonwood, Minn.

A member of the Marshall Area Christian Home Educators Association, Nathan was one of three home-schoolers among the 55 state and territory champions, who were drawn from 5 million fourth- through eighth-graders in 15,000 educational organizations.

The winners were chosen through a multitiered battery of written and oral competitions. The seventh-grader had been the Minnesota winner twice previously, and he made it to the ranks of the 10 finalists through several preliminary rounds.

In winning the National Geographic Bee, Nathan receives a $25,000 scholarship for college, plus $500 cash. He also will be on the U.S. team for the National Geographic World Championship, which is set for July in Budapest.

Although just in seventh grade, Nathan has taken the SAT, the college entrance exam considered by many to be a strong indication of academic achievement. He scored 1520 out of 1600 — enviable even if he were a high school junior or senior.

The second-place winner was Karan Takhar, 14, of East Providence, R.I., who lost on the question “What river was dammed to form Lake Gatun as part of the construction of the Panama Canal?” (the Chagres River). The third-place winner was Samuel Brandt, 13, of Eugene, Ore.

All three boys have been state champions and national bee participants three times each. The second- and third-place winners received $15,000 and a $10,000 scholarships.

Nathan’s parents, Craig and Michele Cornelius, say their son’s love for geography, not their own training, has been the key element in his outstanding performance. They provided him with books and atlases, but his father says: “He just loves geography. It’s a natural gift.”

The 10 finalists, all boys, answered more than 100 questions posed by “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek during the final round. One by one, they were eliminated until the final three were left to battle it out.

Nathan enjoys other hobbies in addition to geography. He plays piano and classical guitar and enjoys photography, especially of the vistas in national parks.

Home-schoolers have been disproportionately successful in the national geography competition. Last year, two of the 10 finalists were home-schoolers, and this year, of the final 10, both Nathan and Matthew Thampy, the Missouri champion, are home-schooled.

The good showing of these home-schoolers is even more impressive when one considers that according to the rules of the competition, only home-schoolers who belong to associations that have six or more eligible students are allowed to participate. Thus, home-schoolers who don’t belong to an association of significant size cannot participate, so the playing field is even further narrowed among those educated at home.

If your family or home-school association would like to participate in the National Geographic competition, check the Web site www.nationalgeographic.com. In addition to information about the competitions, there are a number of excellent geography tools and resources available through the site, including games, maps, books and other materials.

Congratulations to Nathan and his family for winning the geography bee and representing the United States in July and for being an example of how family-centered education allows students to excel.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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