MILTON — Harlan Wright says he has always had an interest in maps and geography. His passion for them has led him to a place in the National Geography Competition, a first for Avalon Middle School, according to Principal Tonya Shepherd.
Wright started studying geography, he said, around the age of six. His mother noticed early on that he had a desire, he said, to learn about geography and encouraged his interest. As he grew older, he obtained maps from his brother and would study them, learning capitols of states and other important information including land features and historic monuments located in the states. Soon he said, his interest became a passion.
"Whenever I saw a map, even if it was a map of the school's fire escapes I would study it," he said. "I would get so excited about it."
Wright said he decided to try out for the competition in 7th grade because he felt like he would do well in it and he wanted to see if he could better than he did in 5th grade.
"I still remember the question asked in 2016," he said. "It was about a park being open and it was some absurdly long word."
Wright said to help prepare he has two maps at home that he studies; a United States and global map. He said he spends a lot of time studying history as well, another passion of his. He said when he grows up this is the field he plans to pursue.
"There aren't a lot of fields you can go into with history and geography," he said. "But I love geography and history so I think I may go into teaching."
Wright credits Kaitlyn Floyd and John Little, history teachers at Avalon Middle, with helping him prepare for the competition. Little teaches Wright and said he is a very engaged student.
"He asks very challenging questions," Little said. "He keeps you on your toes."
Little said Wright will take time to study maps in his classroom and read books when he has finished his schoolwork.
At the beginning of the year, Floyd said Wright came into her room and showed a great interest in the school's history fair.
"I remember a little boy with glasses running into my room and being like, 'Tell me what you can about history fair,'" Floyd said. "I was like, 'I love this.'"
Floyd said she has been putting on the Geography Bee at Avalon for five years and has never had anyone make it to the national competition.
"This is huge," she said.
Shepherd said Avalon is one of only three schools in Santa Rosa County with students attending. She said she is excited to have this happen for the school.
"It's big for us," she said. "Avalon is a pretty vanilla school. We don't make a lot of noise but in the past two years we've made some noise in a positive way."
Shepherd said she is proud of Harlan and the fact that he is so passionate about history. She also thanked the teachers for their support and dedication for volunteering to take part in the competition.
The National Geographic GeoBee will take place March 29 in Jacksonville. Students in grades four through eight from nearly 10,000 schools across the United States will compete for a chance to win college scholarships and being the National Geographic GeoBee Champion.