Forget who's smarter than a fifth-grader. Pinellas County has Aadith Moorthy.
This Palm Harbor Middle School eighth-grader reigns as Florida's state geography champion. Next stop: the 22nd annual National Geographic competition in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday.
At 13, like most teens, Aadith has many interests. He sings, but not just in his room. Aadith gives concerts in the community performing Carnatic music, the classical music of southern India.
He loves math. And has won the math pride award for best math student in his grade. He's a member of the National Honor Society and a whiz with computers, even creating his own website on political cartoons at http://21204219.nhd.weebly.com.
But what piques a young person to become so interested in geography? For Aadith, it was a trip to Alaska.
"I was eight or nine when we traveled to Alaska and I saw a glacier calve," Aadith said. "This huge chunk of ice broke off and came crashing down into the water. … It enlightened me and I felt the need to learn."
So, what began as a fun-filled escapade morphed into plain old hard work and hours of diligent study. To prepare for the state geographic competition last month, Aadith wrote down 20 new facts each day.
Now for the national competition, Aadith has had to crank up his studies with the help of his father, Subramaniam Satyamoorthy and mother, Saguna Moorthy.
Besides conducting Internet research, studying the World Atlas, and reading current events in newspapers, Aadith writes 50 new facts each day. It is a tried and true method for him — one he says gave him the edge he needed to immediately recognize and answer a tiebreaker in the state competition.
The question: What is the most populous city in Hispaniola? The answer: Santo Domingo.
Michelle Anderson, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher and social studies department chair at Palm Harbor Middle School, coordinated the school Geography Bee, where Aadith's odyssey began this year. She also teaches Aadith in a history class.
"I create lessons that put history in the hands of the students and then ask about the history of that document or item," she said. "It gives students ownership. With Aadith, I introduce new concepts and information and watch him bloom."
Aadith knows the national competition will be broader.
Take these two sample questions posted on the National Geographic website, for example: The port of Rotterdam is built on the delta of which major European River? Or how about: To visit the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient ceremonial capital of Persia, you would have to travel to what current-day city?
No doubt, the competition will be intense, but Anderson knows her student is up for the challenge.
"Aadith is amazing," she said. "He is intrinsically motivated and loves learning for the sake of learning."
Fifty-four fifth- through eighth-graders, ages 10 to 14, will vie for the national title and first prize of a $25,000 college scholarship. Scholarships of $15,000 and $10,000 will go to the second- and third-place finishers. Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy, will moderate the competition.
The national winner also receives a trip with one parent to the Galapagos Islands for a hands-on experience with the wildlife and nature.
Aadith, who was born in India, moved to Florida when he was a few months old. He has traveled to Australia, Alaska, India, France, Canada and Germany.
Aadith already knows where he wants to go next: "To the Galapagos Islands with Alex Trebek upon winning the National Geographic Bee."