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Carrollton boy Joseph Sessoms, pictured inside Smithfield’s Westside Elementary School, which he attends, is heading to the state finals of the National Geographic Bee.
Carrollton boy Joseph Sessoms, pictured inside Smithfield’s Westside Elementary School, which he attends, is heading to the state finals of the National Geographic Bee.

A mind for maps

Published 10:33pm Friday, March 28, 2014

A Carrollton boy will compete against about 100 students in the state finals of the National Geographic Bee on Friday.

Joseph Sessoms, a fifth-grader at Westside Elementary School in Smithfield, will travel with his parents to Longwood University for the geography challenge.

“The questions are either about the United States or different countries,” Joseph said. “There are a wide variety of questions.”

Back in January, Joseph won the school-division bee, explained fourth- and fifth-grade gifted teacher Cheryl Fortner, sponsor of Westside’s Geography Bee Club.

Then he took National Geographic’s qualifying test for its state-level rounds. “He received the results back a week ago,” Fortner said.

The competition operates similar to a spelling bee, but Joseph said he didn’t quite know what to expect for Friday’s higher-level competition.

“I think they do rounds to eliminate,” Fortner said.

The competition is open to fourth- through eighth-graders. Winners from the state contests will receive $100 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals May 19-21.

Up for grabs for the national winner is a $50,000 college scholarship, lifetime National Geographic Society membership, and trip, with a parent or guardian, to the Galapagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. Second- and third-place finishers receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.

Boosting Joseph’s chances is his self-professed love of geography, history and social studies, which he’s had “ever since I was a kid.” (He later corrected that to “ever since I was a little kid.”)

“I always like to go further than what they teach in the SOLs (Standards of Learning),” he said.

“My favorite thing to study is the geography part, and I’m into (the) 20th-century world wars. I just study all of it as much as I possibly can.”

He chalked up his interest in the world wars to the fact that he comes from a “family of veterans,” adding, “The geography was just always a passion.”

Westside’s Geography Bee Club is a dedicated group, according to Fortner.

“Coming to club isn’t playtime,” she said. “We are very serious about what we do. We talk about cultures; everything from airports to railways to laws to the types of homes. It’s a very global club.”

Joseph, also a competitive swimmer and chess player, said he is excited and nervous about the state competition but likes his chances.

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