Redding student wins geography bee

Ben Fligelman, an eighth grader at John Read Middle School in Redding, has been named a Connecticut National Geographic State Bee Semifinalist by the National Geographic Society
Ben Fligelman, an eighth grader at John Read Middle School in Redding, has been named a Connecticut National Geographic State Bee Semifinalist by the National Geographic Society

Redding resident Ben Fligelman said he felt a little nervous but also confident recently as he participated in John Read Middle School’s final round of the 2018 Connecticut National Geographic State Bee semifinalist competition.

“I was very tense but relaxed because even if I didn’t win, I made it to the schoolwide championship,” said Ben, 14, who is in the eighth grade. “That would have been an OK way to end. Winning would be icing on the cake.”

Ben ended up with “the icing,” though, since he won his school’s bee. He has been named a Connecticut National Geographic State Bee Semifinalist by the National Geographic Society.

On Friday, April 6, he will be competing in the 2018 Connecticut National Geographic State Bee at  Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

John Read students have participated in the Geography Bee for about 13 years, said Principal Diane Martin. In that time, only one other student has made it to the next level.

This year, more than 160 Connecticut schools took part in the bee.

The National Geographic Society is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization whose goal, according to its website, is to “further exploration and educate people around the world to inspire solutions for the greater good.”

This is the 30th year of the competition. Bees were held in schools throughout Connecticut, with students in fourth through eighth grades vying to be each school’s champion.


Each school champion takes an online test from National Geographic. If the student receives a high enough score, as Ben did, he or she receives an invitation to the state competition.

The National Geographic Society has invited up to 100 of the top-scoring students in the United States to compete in the state bees. If Ben wins the state finals, he will go to the National Geographic Bee Championship from May 20 to 23 at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to Brenda Asendorf, a social studies teacher who coordinates the school’s bee, this competition is “pretty competitive.” There are about 420 students at John Read.

The first round of the bee took place in the classrooms. All students are required to participate.

“In my class’s bee, you are asked seven questions,” Ben said.

Questions covered such topics as U.S. states and countries and continents of the world, as well as weather patterns, weird but true trivia, world history events, and culture.  

“I got all seven questions right,” Ben said.

To determine the grade winner, winners from each classroom usually compete against each other. However, because Ben was the only student in his grade to get all seven first-round questions right, he did not have to compete against other classroom winners. He was simply declared the winner of his grade.

In the final round of the competition, all the grade winners sat in the proctor’s classroom.

“There was a double elimination — if you got two questions wrong you were out,” said Ben, who described the mood as “tense, but not to the point where it hung in the room. It was like the feeling you have when you are about to finish a long journey.”

The entire final round of the competition took 20 minutes, according to Ben. “You had about 15 seconds to answer each question,” he said.

Ben said he knew the answers to every question both he and the other students were asked — except for one.  

“It was about Indian Ocean trade routes and the South African city of Durban,” he said. “I wasn’t sure about it and I was happy I didn’t get asked it.”

Eventually, only Ben and a fifth grader were left standing. The fifth grader was asked: On Interstate 70 traveling west, you pass through a major metropolitan area in Missouri, and then you enter which Midwestern state?

While the answer is Kansas, the fifth grader answered incorrectly — making Ben the school winner.


To prepare for the bee, Ben said, he increased his viewing time on such educational programs as Geography Now and National Geographic.

Despite all his knowledge of geography, Ben said, there are some topics he is weak on.

“I have no idea about South American land forms, the Atacama desert and the Amazon rainforest,” Ben said. “So when I prepare for the state bee, I’m going to make sure I have a better knowledge of these facts so I’m not caught off guard by them.”

Ben offered a tip when it comes to doing well at a geography bee.

“If you associate a place with an interesting fact about something, it becomes so much easier to remember,” he said.

For example, he said the state of Maine is the only state with one syllable.

Geography has always been Ben’s favorite subject.

“I got interested in geography through history because a lot of history is geography,” he said. “I like to read books about history and look at old maps, and that’s how I really started loving geography.”

Ben added that he likes the “accuracy” of geography.

“I like that some far away town is marked on a map,” he said. “There is something very calming to think that somebody knows about that town.”

Ben said he hopes to have a career in the botany field.

“I like plants. I got into biology from geography. A lot of geography questions are about flora and fauna,” he said.

He is familiar with the way his school’s geography bees work since he has done well on them in the past.

“Every single year since I was in the school, I made it to the grade final,” he said.

However, as for being named school champion, “I never thought it could happen,” he said.

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