Solana Beach’s Earl Warren geography bee winners know their places

Although some might be hard-pressed to locate Kenya on a map, eighth-grader Kirusha Lanski was able to correctly answer the question:

“National Geographic explorer Shivani Bhalla works with warriors in the local Samburu community to protect lions south of Lake Turkana in which African country?”

With that answer, he won the annual Earl Warren Middle School National Geographic Bee on Jan. 15.

“I was surprised I won,” Kirusha said. “But I’m excited to try and go on to the next level.”

The competition started with a dozen students in the preliminary rounds, which took place Jan. 14. In the finals, students were eliminated after missing one question, with the questions becoming more rigorous with each round.

Finalists took turns answering questions verbally, on paper and using a map. Seventh- grader Lukas Loy placed second and eighth-grader Weston Harmer placed third. The top three finalists won Jamba Juice gift cards, and all participants received certificates.

Originally from Russia, Kirusha said he prepared for the competition by downloading National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge App.

“I like the different cultures of each country and the languages,” said Kirusha, who added that he enjoys studying geography.

Coordinated by social science teacher Connor Nesseler, the school-level competition is just the first round of the National Geographic Bee.

The National Geographic Bee kicks off in November and runs through January. It includes thousands of schools from the United States and U.S. territories. The school winners, including Kirusha, take a written test for the opportunity to compete at the state level. The top 100 scorers compete March 27 in the state bee.

The winner from the California State Bee will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national bee May 11-13. Those finals will be aired on television with journalist Soledad O’Brien as moderator.

The winner of the National Geographic Bee receives a $50,000 scholarship, a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine, a Galápagos trip and $500 cash. The second-place winner receives a $25,000 scholarship and $500 cash. The third-place winner receives a $10,000 scholarship and $500 cash. Fourth through 10th place winners receive $500 cash each.

For information about the National Geographic Bee, visit