Mark Smith just finished studying Japan in geography class and knows that “Konnichiwa” means “hello.”
He’s one of 100 fourth- through eighth-graders who will compete today in the state geography bee in Tacoma.
But the 14-year-old Spokane Valley student never has been enrolled in public school.
He and his five brothers and sisters have been home-schooled by their mother, Diane Smith, since the age of 5.
Only the state’s top 100 scorers won the right to compete today. Each state winner will receive $100 and other prizes and will advance to the finals in Washington, D.C., on May 30 and 31. The top national prize is a $25,000 college scholarship.
Smith, an eighth-grader, has been preparing for the test for weeks. He has studied with other home-schoolers, put together numerous puzzles of the world and played geography games put out by National Geographic.
He defeated the 31 other fourth- through eighth-graders in Valley Home Scholars, his home-schooling group, then took a test issued by the state geography bee to qualify for the competition.
“The test he took to get into this bee, I would flunk with an encyclopedia in front of me,” Mark’s father, Lee Smith, said.
Mark spends about five hours on schoolwork each day, doing assignments given to him by his mother. He works at his own pace, going to her for help when he needs it.
The friends he’s made at Boy Scouts, in church and on sports teams all ask what it’s like to be home-schooled. Most think it would be tougher, because “they figure your mom’s a lot stricter,” Mark said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never had a teacher.”
For certain subjects, the whole homeschooling group - 180 families - works together. They hold spelling and geography bees and writers’ workshops.
They’ve even done biology labs, dissecting a pig, a frog and a cow eyeball, Mark said.
“Biology was kind of a group effort,” Mark said. “Everybody knew a little bit.”
Diane and Lee Smith decided to teach their children at home 15 years ago, when their youngest child was 5, because they weren’t satisfied with public education.
They thought the best education could only be provided one-on-one, in the “encouraging environment” of their home, Diane Smith said.
Now she wishes she could give other parents confidence to do the same.
“It’s a good thing,” Diane Smith tells other parents. “You will not hurt your child by doing this.”
Mark agrees. If he has children one day, he thinks he’ll teach them at home, too.
“I think it’s better, just because you get to be with your family and you’re spending time together,” the teenager said. “We know each other a lot more.”
xxxx 1. AREA PARTICIPANTS Spokane-area students who will compete in the state geography bee today are: Jill Becker, seventh-grader, Northwood Junior High School; Rachel Bender, seventh-grader, Sacajawea Middle School; Aaron Bordner, seventh- grader, Lakeside Middle School; Paul Fulp, seventh-grader, Chase Middle School; Greta Olson, eighth-grader, Horizon Junior High School; Lewis Pardun, seventh-grader, Cheney Middle School; Matt Schroeder, seventh-grader, Bowdish Junior High School; Mark Smith, eighth-grader with Valley Home Scholars; Cassie Taylor, eighth-grader, North Pines Junior High School.
2. SAMPLE QUESTIONS Some of the following questions were used in the 1994 National Geography Bee. 1. Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Yugoslavia all have their capital cities on the banks of what river? 2. Name the only country in Central America that gained its independence from Great Britain rather than from Spain. 3. Fields that farmers build like stairsteps into the slopes of steep hills are commonly known by what term? 4. After Antarctica, which continent has the fewest people per square mile? 5. The westernmost country on the mainland of Europe is the source of much of the world’s cork. Name this country. Answers: 1. The Danube. 2. Belize. 3. Terraces. 4. Australia. 5. Portugal.