Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

At Flower Hill Elementary, geography is magic

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Fourth-grader Asad Raheem (from left), and second-graders Annie Hoy and Zachary Funes learn longitude and latitude on the continent of Australia with volunteer Stan Seiken during the Global Wizards program at Flower Hill Elementary School in Gaithersburg on Thursday.
Flower Hill Elementary School was transported to the wilds of the Australian Outback on Thursday.

The Gaithersburg school is one of the latest in the county to give in to the magic of Global Wizards, an after-school geography program for students in grades two, three and four run by Interages Inc. of Wheaton. The nonprofit helps adults and youth develop positive relationships.

Silver Spring’s Glenallan and Montgomery Knolls, and Laytonsville elementary schools are also offering sessions of the eight-week program.

Global Wizards has grown in popularity since it was founded in 2003, and 12 schools expressed interest in hosting the volunteer-taught program this fall, more than Interages can afford.

Interages introduced Global Wizards after program coordinator Louisa Magzanian learned that 87 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. could not find Iraq on a map, according to National Geographic.

‘‘When I found out how poorly Americans did, I asked about how geography was being taught [in elementary schools], and it wasn’t,” said Magzanian, who taught English in Afghanistan as part of the Peace Corps.

Adult volunteers give weekly geography lessons on a different continent each session.

‘‘It’s fun for teachers and for the kids,” volunteer Stan Seiken said Thursday. ‘‘Mostly the kids.”

Global Wizards came to Flower Hill in the fall with a focus on Africa, and the 12 students enrolled in the current session — including six repeat geographers — are spending the winter learning all about Oceania and Antarctica. Besides basic map-reading skills, the students learn all about the environment, natural resources, wildlife and people of the places they study.

On Thursday, the students took their worksheets and huddled in two groups to find the latitude of Canberra, the capital of Australia, and measure the distance between Brisbane and Melbourne using pieces of yarn on a map taped to the table.

‘‘I think...,” second-grader Nia Moore of Gaithersburg mused as she stretched her string over the map.

‘‘When you have a map, you never think,” Magzanian told her. ‘‘You’re sure.”

Between the hand-raising and the addition problems subtly slipped in, Global Wizards is more like class than an after-school club, but the young cartographers didn’t seem to care.

‘‘Hopefully when someone asks them ‘Where’s Iraq?’ they’ll say, ‘What are the coordinates?’”