AMHERST — Cameron Gray-Lee, an eighth-grade student at Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School, is working on sharpening his mental map of the world — including memorizing state capitals and bodies of water.
He’s one of roughly 100 students statewide headed to the Massachusetts finals for the National Geographic Society GeoBee on Friday at Elms College in Chicopee after passing through several qualifying rounds at his middle school. The prize: $1,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C. for the national championship in May. 10,000 schools across the U.S. participate in the program, and the national competition offers college scholarships as prizes.
“I really just like geography as a whole,” Gray-Lee said. “I like learning about the world.”
The GeoBee competition is open to students in fourth through eighth grades who answer a range of questions about everything from deserts to bays. For instance: “The wreck of the Titanic was discovered in 1985, a few hundred miles off the coast of Cape Race, which is located on what peninsula?” reads a sample question on the program’s website.
Gray-Lee qualified by winning a geography contest at his school, and then by scoring in the top 100 on a qualifying online test from the National Geographic Society.
“It’s a pretty big deal to get into that. The bee has quite a lot of participants,” said Irene LaRoche, Gray-Lee’s social studies teacher.
Gray-Lee said he studies atlases, and that his dad, a computer programmer, created a digital geography quiz game. “That’s really useful. We play that a lot,” he said, adding that traveling has also helped.
He advanced to the state bee in sixth grade but was tripped up on a question about a river in the Southern U.S. that one can whitewater raft on, he said. Now an eighth-grader, this is the last year he can participate.
Other Hampshire County participants include Brady Pete of Granby Jr. Sr. High School and Justice Arai of Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.