YouTube host visits Gruening for Geogra-BEE

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 18:26
  • Teachers Michelle O’Leary and Katelyn Barringer, who entered a contest and earned the visit from Paul Barbato thanks to their winning video, stand with runner-up Breanna Crowther and winner Joshua Leiva at the Geogra-BEE on March 2 at Gruening Middle School. (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)
  • Joshua Leiva, Jasmine Frederick and Jax Donlon compete in the Geogra-BEE on March 2 at Gruening Middle School. (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)
  • Paul Barbato, who hosts the popular YouTube show “Geography NOW!”, visited Gruening Middle School on March 2 to host a Geogra-BEE won by Joshua Leiva (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)

What town sits at the end of the Iditarod Trail?

Besides Portugal, what other countries speak Portuguese?

What is the second most-spoken language in Alaska?

Answers: Nome, Brazil and Yup’ik.

Not all the questions were easy, but then, that’s part of the fun when the popular YouTube channel Geography NOW! host Paul “Barby” Barbato picks your school. He traveled to Eagle River March 2 to record his show, Geography NOW! Geogra-BEE at Gruening Middle School.

The school will now gain national and even international attention after it was chosen as one of only five in North America whose students compete for the coveted Globe Trophy.

Cameras rolled as 20 students in four teams took the stage. By round two, they were whittled down to 10. In round three, eliminations reduced five contenders to two finalists: Joshua Leiva and Breanna Crowther.

Leiva won on a flag question by identifying Ireland’s national symbol.

Michelle O’Leary and Katelyn Barringer, two geography teachers at Gruening, applied for and won the opportunity for their students to participate. The end prize is their students appearing on one of Barbato’s weekly programs in the very near future.

The teachers had drawn on Barbato’s program to help bolster studies in their own classes. When they spotted the opportunity, they jumped on it in an eye-catching video application. In fact, they produced the video-application just prior to the start of the school year last August.

They cited five reasons why Barbato should consider their school: Alaska is part of North America. Gruening Middle School is in one of the most diverse school districts in the U.S. They use his YouTube program in their school. The administration likes the idea and No. 5 – “It’s Alaska; how many things do we need to list to have you come?”

Teachers and students alike — this was not mentioned in their video application — are big Barbato fans. He isn’t stuffy but he’s not silly either.

“Students enjoy the engaging style Barby uses on his channel, where he produces a new episode each week about the (United Nations)-recognized countries,” O’Leary said.

“As educators, we love the relevant vocabulary and cultural content Barby infuses into his information-packed episodes,” Barringer said.

Barbato, 30, has hosted the educational YouTube channel show since 2014.

The countries discussed, with friends as side actors, follow the United Nations alphabetical list of members. He “dissects” flags — talking about the significant symbols of each national flag — and takes a closer look at borders, regional divisions, physical features of lands and demographics.

Gruening was chosen in September as the site selected for staging a GeograBEE show on its own stage. Barbato announced the winners on his program after months of hyping his contest: “I have already selected my very first winner out of five schools … drum role,” he said, building the drama on his program. “My very first winner is Gruening Middle School in Eagle River, Alaska. I don’t know if you pronounce it ‘Greening’ or ‘Groaning?.’ You are the first out of five.”

Though selected more than five months earlier, the teachers said they wanted to wait until Fur Rendezvous and Iditarod to frame Barbato’s Alaska visit. In the meantime, they got to work with their students drilling on all the state and world capitals, biggest rivers, smallest states, even major religions of obscure countries.

The one question, however, that stumped students came from their own state: What is the northernmost town in Alaska that produces 25 percent of the nation’s oil?

Barbato didn’t have Barrow or Utqiagvik as the answer that many of the students wrote down on their slates. He had Prudhoe Bay, but his answer was wrong as well.

Prudhoe Bay isn’t a town and it hasn’t accounted for 25 percent of the nation’s oil production since 1988 when it peaked at 2.1 million barrels per day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, out of 20 students, not one got Barbaro’s answer. Teacher O’Leary said she also missed that particular question, but planned to talk about it with her students after the event.

The final round, between Crowther and Leiva, boiled down to identifying flags. They traded getting a few right, then a few wrong, until finally Leiva settled it with the orange, green and white flag of Ireland.

He was awarded the Globe Trophy and gets to carry the distinction of being the winner of the Geography NOW! GeograBEE.

Yet, the whole group of 20 students is also the big winner at the end of the event. In about a month or so, after Barbato has edited video, they will appear before his YouTube following of educators and students all over the world.

“To us, they are all winners today because we will get our very own video,” O’Leary said. “Tomorrow (Saturday), we will be taking Barby around to Iditarod and Fur Rondy events, and he will take some video. Then, that will be part of his presentation on Gruening Middle School, his Alaska adventures.”

So far, Barbato has also visited a school in Montreal, Canada for another of his top five, and plans his next stop for a school in California.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

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