Overland Park & Leawood

Going somewhere? These two can probably tell you all about it

It’s nerve-racking standing in front of a crowd, waiting to be quizzed on obscure facts. Even so, two local students won the Kansas and Missouri state geography bees and now have tickets to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“When you’re in that spot, you tend to forget a lot of things you know, and everybody’s staring at you,” said 12-year-old Praneeta Nalluri.

Praneeta, a sixth-grader at Overland Trail Middle School in the Blue Valley School District, is thought to be the first girl to win the Kansas Geographic Bee.

Fellow competitor 10-year-old Aviral Misra is in the fifth grade at Academy Montessori Internationale in Kansas City. Although he lives in Leawood, since his school is in Missouri, he competed in and won that state’s bee.

The two will compete against each other again at the National Geographic Bee on May 22.

Praneeta competed in the Missouri state bee last year, when she and Aviral were classmates and geography bee rivals at the academy.

At the Montessori school, Praneeta said, there is a big focus on geography. When there’s a school-wide geography bee, kids as young as first grade take part, even though they can’t qualify to go to the state competition until they reach fourth grade.

The state and national bees are open to students in the fourth through eighth grades, and all grade levels compete against each other. The winner of each school bee in the state takes a written qualifying test, and the top 100 students from that test get to compete at the state level.

In the geography bee, there are preliminary rounds on various topics before a group of 10 finalists takes the stage. They go until only the top two are remaining, then move on to a championship round. In the championship round, the questions can be from any category.

For Aviral, the most exciting part of the Missouri bee was “when they asked the last question, because I knew the answer,” he said.

The questions they’ll answer can be on any facet of geography — political boundaries, historical and cultural issues or physical features of the earth.

“I try to study the things I enjoy the most,” said Aviral, who prefers the history and culture parts.

He likes to study by having his parents quiz him on the facts and by looking at a map of the world.

Praneeta, who also prefers cultural geography, enjoys studying with online geography quizzes that she finds at purposegames.com, in addition to the usual maps and atlases.

“You can (find) a quiz on any topic. It’s a nice way to learn,” Praneeta said. “They’ll quiz you on something, and as you keep taking the quiz over and over again, and eventually it cements in your brain.”

She finds physical geographic features easier to learn than names of cities.

The geographical knowledge Praneeta and Aviral are gaining isn’t just for this competition.

“If I want to travel anywhere, I already know the major landmarks and what the culture and language are like,” Aviral said.

He’s already been to India and Thailand, as well as lots of places within the United States, though his favorite geographical fact comes from Africa.

“Lake Malawi is also called ‘the calendar lake,’ because it’s 365 miles long and 52 miles wide at its widest point,” he said.

Praneeta also likes to tie her travels to what she’s learned. She’s been to India a few times and enjoys studying about areas like The Sundarbans, a forest in India and Bangladesh that’s home to lots of endangered species.

When she travels, “sometimes before I go there, I learn facts about that place and then I go there and it kind of makes the facts stick in my head,” Praneeta said. “Then I come back, and I study that again.”