Two Lexington-Richland School District Five students have earned spots at the 2017 South Carolina National Geographic State Bee. Eighth-grade students Mitchell Burnham of Chapin Middle School and Li Ward of Irmo Middle School have been named semifinalists by the National Geographic Society. They are eligible to compete in the South Carolina National Geographic State Bee, which will be held at Brookland Baptist Church Community Resource Center Banquet and Conference Center March 31.

To qualify, Burnham and Ward competed and placed first in their School Bees. They then took a qualifying test and submitted it to the National Geographic Society. Up to 100 of the top scoring students in each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Dependents Schools, and U.S. territories will move on to compete in the State Bees.

“I am really surprised that I made it to the State Geography Bee, but I am very happy about it,” Burnham said.

Burnham’s South Carolina History teacher Beth Bedenbaugh added, “I am thrilled that Mitchell will be representing Chapin Middle School in the South Carolina National Geographic State Bee. I am so proud of him.”

Irmo Middle School had a special guest moderate their School Bee, City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. The top 10 students competed in the School Bee with Ward coming out as the school champion.

“It feels great to have qualified for the State Bee,” said Ward. “When I was in the final round of the School Bee with my friend, it felt as if there was a cactus in my gut, but my diligence paid off.”

South Carolina History teacher Joshua Noble wasn’t surprised by Ward’s success qualifying for the State Bee.

“It is not often that I come across a student as motivated as Li in a particular subject. There are times when I just sit back and allow Li to share what he knows about a particular topic because I know that it is not just a story in a textbook to him, but a passion,” said Noble. “Sitting in the corner of my class is a bookshelf full of older history books and on several occasions, Li has picked one up, analyzed the cover and maybe a few pages, and then without fail asked to take it home for the night. That uncommon intrigue is what is so fun about Li and what will propel him to be a lifelong learner.”

This is the second level of the National Geographic Bee competition. Each state champion will move on to represent their state at the National Geographic Bee Championship at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington D.C. on May 14-17. The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership to the Society, and a trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Photo: Irmo Middle School champion Li Ward with School Bee organizer April Herring and Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin.