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GROTON — Fifth-grader Garret Bacon won the school-level competition, the first round of the 2012 National Geographic Bee, held last week at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School Performing Arts Center, which was packed with cheering students and staff.

“That was unexpected. I predicted that I would lose to an eighth grader. I never thought I’d beat one,” said the excited winner. Before the bee began, Garret said that he prepared with a package from his teacher, Betsy Sawyer, but still felt a little nervous.

Earlier in the month, classrooms held contests to determine which students representing each grade would compete.

Sitting at tables facing the audience, 11 students gave answers one by one to the official questions posed. Those competing were fifth-graders Andrew McCusker, Bacon and Brian Scott, sixth-graders Will Graney, Graham Chilcoat and Kira McKinley, seventh-graders Alexis Mottram, Zack Adams and Emmie Scalf and eighth-graders Travis Bugbee and RJ Murray.

For the 24th year, the National Geographic Society is holding the National Geographic Bee, this year sponsored by Google, for middle-school students in thousands of schools across the country, U.S. territories and Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

Bacon now advances to the next level of competition, and all school winners are eligible to win the national championship, held May 22-24, in Washington, D.C. The national winner will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the Society and a trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Linda Maillet and Amy Schorn, who teach seventh-grade geography, coordinated the event. Maillet first became involved with the bee in 1989 when she began teaching at the middle school.

“I think kids begin to understand what geography is about, not just countries and capitals but cultural information as well.”

Students build an awareness and working knowledge of world geography with the use of atlases, geography brain teasers and the five themes of geography (location, place, human-environment interaction, movement and region) according to Schorn, who has taught at the middle school for 17 years, and seventh-grade geography for the past nine.

“Our hope is that this contest helps students begin to understand the larger picture of geography — connecting political and physical features, cultural characteristics, location, availability of resources and how these all influence where people live and how they live,” said Schorn.

It came down to two finalists, Bacon and Bugbee, who competed in the championship round.

“We are starting with a clean slate,” explained Maillet, three questions would be asked at the same time and 15 seconds allowed for the students to write their answer.

With each correct answer, the audience cheered louder.

“Garret, Garret” chanted students holding up their signs when Maillet announced the new school champion.

For the next level in the competition, Bacon will take a written exam, which will be mailed to the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. This test will determine the top 100 scorers in Massachusetts who will then be eligible to compete at the state level on March 30 at Clark University in Worcester.

“Three times in our history, since I’ve been here, we’ve sent kids off to state competition and I’m thinking maybe we can do that this year,” announced Maillet.

Garret was awarded the National Geographic Bee medal and was given a big handshake of congratulations from Principal Steven Silverman. “It was so exciting to see a fifth-grade student win this competition!” said Silverman, who immediately called Garret’s mom to deliver the good news.

“We are so proud of him,” said Jody Bacon. She said Garret has a globe in his room and he likes to play a contest with his dad and sister in which they locate certain places.

Admiring the bronze medal attached to a gold ribbon that hung around his neck, Bacon said, “It’s the first medal I’ve ever received for winning. I’m going to put it in a memory box under my bed.”

Silverman shared some advice with Bacon: to do the best he could on the written test.

Silverman then said, “We all will be cheering for you.”