Darien sends fifth student to national geography bee
He isn't old enough to vote or drive a car but he has an understanding of physical and cultural geography that would rival, if not surpass, the average person. That's why he recently became the state geography bee champion.
Michael Borecki is in the sixth grade at Middlesex Middle School and without knowing he is the state champion, you wouldn't know he's a geography ace. It's not like he walks around carrying a globe or with his head buried in a map, although he did admit he's had a keen interest in maps from a young age. Even though he has bested all challengers at both the school and state level, Borecki admitted he still bets butterflies during the competitions.
"Sometimes I feel nervous but I really like the atmosphere surrounding the competition," Borecki said. "It can get very intense."
Darien has a reputation for producing exceptional students and Borecki can be added to the growing list of academic superstars as the fifth student from the town to compete at the national level. To date, Darien has sent more students to the competition than any other town in Connecticut.
The students' success can be attributed in part to the efforts of Barbara Ivey who is the coordinator for the geography bee as well as the Middlesex librarian. Ivey is no stranger to the competitions; she began coaching the champions 18 years ago.
"I got involved because of my passion for geography," Ivey said. "After I started coaching I decided it gave the kids an extra advantage."
Ivey and Borecki meet three times a week so that Ivey can quiz Borecki on a variety of subjects including current events.
"The current events is a really big thing, so I try to push it," Ivey said. "There are also physical geography segments which deals with cloud formations and rocks and you have to know cultural geography as well."
Before the idea of competing at the state and national level became a reality, Borecki first had to win the school competition.
"We have a preliminary competition and usually there is a tie between a number of students," Ivey said. "This year was a little different because we had 47 students who tied and we had to get the number down to 10."
Once the number of students is reduced to 10, they then compete in front of the entire school in the auditorium until only one champion emerges.
"The champion then has to take a 70 question test and the state will take the top 100 scorers on the test," Ivey said.
Similar to the school competition, the state geography bee requires the number of competitors to be reduced to 10.
"You get eliminated if you get two questions wrong," Ivey said. "Michael only missed one of about 20 questions."
Borecki eventually bested his competition with a correct answer to the question who fell to second in GDP after being surpassed by China? Borecki correctly answered Japan while the other competitors answered India, Ivey said.
The next stop is the national geography bee which is held in Washington, D.C., on May 24 and 25, Ivey said.
"The students are broken up into groups for a preliminary event and the top scorers are than taken from the groups," Ivey said. "Alex Trebek will moderate and the competition is televised on PBS and National Geographic."
Competing at the state and national level is always exciting for Ivey who has personally coached four of the town's five winners.
"It's overwhelming to have five winners," Ivey said. "In a little town like Darien we've had five winners and it's amazing."
The school curriculum and opportunities to travel abroad most likely sparked an interest in geography which has contributed to the success of the students, Ivey said.
Borecki was unsure how he would do at the national level but Ivey was all praise for his abilities.
"He is working very hard all the time," Ivey said. "You have to know so much about the world because geography is in all aspects of our lives."
As Borecki and Ivey continue to prepare for the competition, both agreed there is a certain element of luck involved in terms of what questions will be asked.
"It's the luck of the draw because you never know what will be asked so you have to keep practicing," Ivey said.
Practicing is exactly what the two will be doing over the next month as they headed back to Ivey's office to begin the day's regimen of questions.