Despite his youth, Theodore Jansen is no newbie when it comes to the world of geography.
The fifth-grader at Paddock Road Elementary in the Westside district has been studying rivers and mountains, cultures and capitals since about first grade.
“I like it because it makes me so aware about the world and there are so many things to learn,” he said of his favorite subject.
Last Friday, Theodore put all that time and preparation to work to win the Nebraska State Geographic Bee.
And he'll be back at his maps and books, with some help from his father, Jim, and his grandfather, as he prepares to represent the state at the National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C., in late May.
A total of 99 students from across the state started the competition at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The bee is open to students in grades four through eight.
Theodore has won his school's bee three years in a row, said Jenny Henningsen, who teaches gifted students at Paddock Road and Prairie Lane Elementary Schools. He finished in the top 20 at last year's state bee as a fourth-grader.
Randy Bertolas, coordinator of the Geographic Educators of Nebraska, said in an email that relatively few fifth-graders have won Nebraska's bee.
Nationally, six of the 53 state-level bee winners last Friday are fifth-graders and one — Maryland's state champion — is a fourth-grader, said Bertolas, geography professor and chairman of the history, politics and geography at Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb.
To win, Theodore correctly identified the Canadian province — Ontario — where Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town that played a key role in the War of 1812, is situated. The question stumped not only the other finalist in the state bee but also the Westside school board, which honored Theodore at its meeting Tuesday.
Henningsen said this year's bee included a lot of questions that included connections between history and geography. Theodore, she said, understands that connection.
His father, in fact, is working on a master's degree in history. His mom, Mary, is a physician. His sister, Virginia, is a fourth-grader at Paddock Road.
Tony Maras, a sixth-grader at Otte Middle School in Blair, placed second in the Nebraska bee. Sam Messbarger, an eighth-grader at Omaha's McMillan Magnet Middle School, finished third.
Contact the writer: