Wilson Elementary’s Ishii Knows Her Maps

State Geography Bee champion Mika Ishii and the cash prize she won ... so far. Photo from Andrew Ishii.

“Estonia” is the answer that propelled 10-year-old Mika Ishii into the winner’s circle at the Hawaii State Geography Bee. As in: “Name the Baltic country that replaced the kroon with the Euro in early 2011, becoming the most-recent country to join the Eurozone.”

The Wilson Elementary School fourth-grader also won $100, a complete set of National Geographic DVDs, and a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for the national title later this month against 54 other winners. She will be among the youngest at the event, which is for grades 4-8 and carries the promise of a $25,000 scholarship and a hands-on geography trip to the Galapagos Islands.

“She’s very self-motivated and is a good all-round student who loves reading,” said Ishii’s teacher, Laura Hew, who will accompany her to D.C., courtesy of National Geography Society (NGS). “She even reads nonfiction, fact books.”

Ishii also is a very matter-of-fact student. When asked in a TV interview why she reads maps, she replied: “I like to see where different places are.”

The 2012 sponsor of the national bee, Google, has experienced its own success with geography fans (and perhaps nosy neighbors) lately, according to Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Earth and Maps.

“Our teams at Google are thrilled that young minds are using Google Earth as an educational tool to deepen their understanding of both natural and human geography,” McClendon declared.

The experience so far also has affected Hew and her class. “The kids are surprised that geography is taken so seriously, and even I want to look around the world more,” said Hew, who lives in Hawaii Kai. She also has begun to consider tweaking next year’s Hawaii-only lessons to broaden their scope.

The national bee is set for May 22-24 at NGS headquarters and will be broadcast May 24 at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time on NGC and Nat Geo WILD, with later airings on public TV stations. The show’s host is Alex Trebek of Jeopardy fame.