Christ the King student headed to National Geographic Bee

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

It was a nail-biting competition with nearly a dozen tie-breaker questions. But Jackson Cooper secured the win with this wringer:

What city that is home to the renowned Ambrosian Library is also the principal financial center of Italy?

The seventh-grader at Christ the King School in University City edged out St. Louis Priory seventh-grader Evan Hugge with the correct answer — Milan — to win the Missouri state-level competition of the National Geographic Bee April 6 at Moberly Area Community College.

Jackson competed against 100 other students, winning an all-expenses paid trip to National Geographic's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to represent Missouri in the national competition May 20-23. As the state winner, Jackson also won a $200 cash prize and a copy of "National Geographic Visual Atlas of the World, 2nd Edition."

Jackson has held an enthusiasm for geography since he was about six years old. When his family moved to a new house, he asked his parents for a map to put in his new room.

Jeff and Cheri Jackson obliged, purchasing him U.S. and world maps. By age seven, he had memorized every state and its capital. He saw older students had competed in the geography bee at school and knew he wanted to compete someday. By fifth grade, he advanced to the state bee for the first time.

Jackson maintains a keen memory when it comes to countries and other related trivia. Where other students in his social studies class will take copious notes on a recent lesson on the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark expedition, Jackson instead has it filed away in his memory — frequently raising his hand to accurately answer his teacher's quizzing.

"I'll remember a bunch of stuff about geography, but I can't remember math homework," he joked.

For the national competition, Jackson is focusing his attention on studying world geography. He also prepares by exploring random places on Google maps and taking online geography quizzes.

National Geographic Society's interim president and CEO Mike Ulica said the competition, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, "rewards students' curiosity and inspires a lifelong passion for learning about our interconnected world. The National Geographic Society furthers global understanding and supports educators to empower their students to become the next generation of engaged citizens and responsible stewards of the planet."

Jackson has traveled to six countries: England, France, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico. "I want to go to Italy, because I love Italian food," he said. "I want to see the Vatican and Rome and everything."

The Vatican now has special meaning to Jackson. As it turns out, he experienced another major accomplishment recently — two days after he won the state competition, he entered the Catholic Church at Christ the King on Divine Mercy Sunday.

His interest was piqued around the second grade, when he saw his friends making their First Reconciliation and First Communion. That feeling solidified as he became older.

"At first it was like I want to be like my friends, but then it turned into I really wanted to be Catholic," he said. "I like church — it's always been a welcome break from school." He added that the pastor, Msgr. Mike Turek, "has been really supportive of me." 

>> Watch national competition

The final round of the National Geographic Bee will be shown at www.natgeobee.org starting May 24. Journalist and humorist Mo Rocca will moderate the competition.

Students in fourth through eighth grades from 10,000 schools across the United States have competed in the 2018 competition. Winners of school competitions advance to the state level, and each state sends one representative to the national competition.

The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, which includes a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine, and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands. Second- and third-place finishers will receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively. 

>> Quiz yourself

Everyone can test their geography knowledge with the exciting Geo Bee Quiz, an online geography quiz at www.nationalgeographic.org/bee/study/quiz, which poses 10 new questions a day. The National Geographic Geo Quiz on Amazon's Alexa, the Nat Geo Bee quiz on Google Action and the GeoBee Challenge app are also available free for iOS and Android users. 

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