Civics Bee offers students opportunity to test their knowledge

Apr. 26—When Marcelo Tellez, 13, is on vacation, his parents like to set aside at least one day for cultural learning.

On a recent trip to Paris, for example, the family visited monuments and discussed the French Revolution, his father, Armando Tellez, said.

Armando said he prioritizes cultural and civil education in his household, starting at a young age, and that parents should build that foundation.

Marcelo's upbringing was evident on Tuesday as he won a Civics Bee hosted by the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce.

Twenty-one middle schoolers competed on stage Tuesday evening at Hood College's Hodson Auditorium to demonstrate their civics knowledge.

Based on a qualifying essay, multiple-choice question rounds, and a live speech, Marcelo scored the highest.

Marcelo's twin brother, Diego Tellez, was a top five finisher.

"You have to mold the mindset from the beginning," Armando Tellez said after the event.

Marcelo, who attends Walkersville Middle School, won $1,000, as well as gift cards to businesses including Bruster's Ice Cream.

"I am very proud," Marcelo said in an interview after the event. "This is a very big moment for me."

He said he will share his money and gift cards with his family.

Tanvi Chaturvedi, 14, of Urbana Middle School, finished second and won $500. Jackson Mulligan, 14, also of Urbana Middle School, placed third and won $250. They also won gift cards.

The three students will advance to the state competition on June 17.

The local event was part of a National Civics Bee, created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Whitney Harmel, executive vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email.

The local event first tested the finalists in multiple-choice questions on topics such as the United Nations and the G.I. Bill. Some seemed to stump students.

One question asked students to identify the correct author of a quote from a group of Enlightenment-era thinkers.

The quote was from French philosopher Montesquieu's book on government, "The Spirit of Laws," and only six answered it correctly.

"Most of the questions were pretty hard, pretty tough," said New Market Middle School student Matthew Hill, 13.

After two rounds of multiple choice, five students advanced to round three, in which they gave short speeches based on their qualifying essays and answered questions from a panel of judges.

Marcelo Tellez's essay pondered the balance between urban development and farmland.

Farmers, of which Frederick County has many due to the quality of its soil, often could make more money selling their land to developers, Marcelo said in his speech.

"But what happens when all the farmers sell their land? We won't have enough food to support our county," he said on stage.

Debbie Streeton, the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce member services manager, who organized the event, said she thought Marcelo's confidence in his speech and answering questions set him apart.

The finalists on stage came from a pool of 60 students whose essays were scored in areas such as clarity and use of supporting evidence, Streeton said.

For their essay, students were asked to identify a problem in their community and come up with a solution.

Rick Weldon, the president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview before the event that he was happy with the level of participation in Frederick County.

"We had more kids in Frederick County apply to participate than all the other counties in Maryland combined," Weldon said.

Tiana Haile, community engagement coordinator at Frederick County Public Schools, a judge for the event, said she was impressed with the students.

At their age, "I was thinking about double Dutch and trying to get in trouble," she said before the event.

"But, these kids, they have much bigger aspirations, and they care much more deeply about their community and their peers," she said.