Student makes his way to national geography bee competition.
Allen Frear Elementary School didn’t have a geography bee until Eric Smith arrived.
According to Principal Julie Lavender, who was a teacher at the time, the bee was created to cater to Eric Smith’s interest.
“We knew that he had such a strong interest in geography, so we thought ‘let’s try it,’” she said.
Smith proceeded to take first place each year he was at Frear. He’s in the eighth grade at Postlethwait Middle School now, and after winning the state championship, is on his way to Washington D.C. for the nationals on May 22.
The Caesar Rodney School District highlighted his efforts at the April 19 board of education meeting. During the meeting he challenged the audience to answer the question that won him the state title.
“Santa Maria Island, an island that has been used by Portuguese grape farmers since 1430, is part of what island chain?” he said.
After giving the audience a few seconds to respond he said—“the Azores Islands.”
His knowledge of geography reached its peak this year and the timing couldn’t have been better. Students can only compete between fourth and eighth grades. In the past, he managed to place in the top ten.
Smith started young. When he was a kid his parents purchased a Leap Frog, an educational tool that included geography lessons. Over time, he developed an ability to pick out countries from a puzzle while blindfolded.
“I’ve always been a fan of memorizing charts and stuff,” he said. “Back in the first grade I could memorize a country’s names and flags.”
To prepare for a geography bee he uses atlases, books and the Internet.
“The Internet is a powerful tool if you know how to use it,” he said. “Unfortunately, most people do not know how to use it properly. Most people use it to look at cat videos.”
Despite his skills the road to victory hasn’t been without challenges. Smith, who plans to attend Polytech High School in the fall, has a mild form of autism—Aspergers syndrome.
Michelle Smith, Eric’s mother, said living with Aspergers has made certain parts of his life difficult.
“For an average person it just comes natural to be able to make friends,” she said. “But for him it’s very hard because he worries about everything he’s going to say and what people think.”
Lavender only taught Eric Smith for a year, and she said his disability never stopped him from learning. Oftentimes, his classmates would turn to him when the teachers asked a geography question.
Michelle Smith advocated for the Frear geography bee. She’s happy her son’s found a positive outlet.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and a little bit shocked,” he said. “He’s just so smart and finally there’s something to challenge that intelligence to get him a reward.”
Eric Smith attributes his victory to factors other than knowledge.
“You don’t have to be the smartest person,” he said. “You just have to be the hardest worker.”