By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Do you know what the capital of Switzerland is? Charlie Foad knows. It’s not Geneva, but Bern. It’s a geography question that trips up a lot of people, but not Charlie, an eighth grader at Saint Savior Catholic Academy in Park Slope.
Charlie Foad was recently notified by the National Geographic Society he is a semifinalist eligible to compete in the New York National Geographic Bee, sponsored by Google and Plum Creek. The bee will take place at the New York State Museum in Albany on Friday, April 5.
“It’s a pleasant surprise that I’m here,” Charlie told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He didn’t expect to be a semi-finalist. He decided to try the geography bee at his school to see how he did.
“I took part in the school-wide bee and I won,” he said, sounding amazed at his good fortune.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Geographic Bee. Bees were held in schools with fourth through eighth grade students to determine each school’s bee winner. School-level winners then took a qualifying written test, which they submitted to the National Geographic Society.
The students with the top scores on the written test were invited by the National Geographic Society to compete at the state level. Youngsters in each of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories are eligible to compete.
The state winner will receive $100, the “Complete National Geographic on DVD,” and a trip to Washington, D.C., where he or she will represent New York in the national finals at National Geographic Society headquarters, May 20-22.
The first-place national winner will travel (along with one parent or guardian), all expenses paid, to the Galapagos Islands. Travel for the trip is provided by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.
National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild will air the final round of the 2013 National Geographic Bee, moderated by Alex Trebek, on Thursday, May 23.
The contest is similar to a spelling bee. But instead of spelling tricky words in front of an audience, contestants have to answer difficult geography questions with a clock ticking down the time.
Charlie developed an interest in geography as a small boy. His father, Nick Foad, a technology specialist, and his mother, Andrea Bonina-Foad, a lawyer in downtown Brooklyn, take the family on numerous hiking trips. “We like to hike all over the northeast and Canada,” Bonina-Foad said. The trips spurred Charlie’s interest in learning about the world.
In addition, Nick Foad does a great deal of traveling for his job and always comes home with stories about the countries he has visited, Bonina-Foad said. “Charlie doesn’t get his geography talent from me!” she said with a laugh.
The family has also traveled frequently to England. Charlie’s favorite thing to see there isn’t Buckingham Palace, but the New Forest, a national park in the South of England. “It’s comparable to the Great Plains here in America. It has big, wide open spaces. But it has something you don’t see everywhere; wild horses,” he said.
Both of his parents encourage Charlie’s interest in geography. The youngster also brushes up on his geography knowledge by looking at StreetView on Google. “It gives you the view of walking down an actual street in a city in a foreign country,” he said, adding that he recently looked up Berlin.
“Charlie is very independent,” Andrea Bonina-Foad said. “My husband and I encourage him, but he’s a self-motivator,” she said.
Charlie admitted that he’s a little nervous about the upcoming bee, where he’ll be competing against students from all over the state. The key to speaking in front of an audience is to “focus on one person in the crowd at a time,” he said.
Jean Eschenauer, the teacher who organized the geography bee at St. Saviour, said she admires Charlie’s contest technique. “I think it’s an innate talent in him. He takes his time and he listens. Some students don’t listen to the question. Charlie will take those seconds and take the time. He will ask for a re-reading of the question if he needs it. That’s part of the secret to his success,” she said.
Geography is important for students to know, especially in the 21st Century, Eschenauer said. “It gives children a cultural connection. It does make the world seem smaller. You get to know and understand people and their motivation,” she said.
“We are proud of Charlie Foad and his talent,” Assistant Principal Gail Harvey said.
Geography is part of the curriculum at St. Saviour Catholic Academy from the early grades, according to Harvey. Children start by learning the physical plant of the school building. They learn where the classrooms and offices are and how the building is situated. Also in early grades, children take field trips to local stores in Park Slope, Harvey said.
In addition his interest in geography, Charlie also enjoys science and language arts. Outside of school, he is a member of Boy Scout Troop 237, which meets at Holy Name Catholic Church in Windsor Terrace. He will graduate from St. Saviour this year and will attend Xavier High School in Manhattan.