Five Oakland siblings, four of them quadruplets, showed off their knowledge of history June 1 when they attended the Second National History Bee in Atlanta.
Swata Alagar, 14, along with Rajan, Krishnan, Indra and Jaya Alagar, all 12, competed against 440 students from 47 states in a "Jeopardy!"-like buzzer contest that tested their knowledge of everything from the economy of ancient China to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"To qualify for the regional, we had to take a computerized test online and place in the top 40 percent," said Rajan, who is home-schooled along with four of his five siblings. Balaji, 7, attends a private school.
All five children went to the regionals in April at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel. That pitted them against students from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Swata came in first, and Rajan came in third.
At the national bee, which tests the history knowledge of middle school students, Indra tied for 11th place, while Rajan qualified for the finals by answering that William Prescott was the commander of the battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War.
The winner of the bee, Jonathan Tran of Beaverton, Ore., received the $1,000 prize by answering correctly that the draft was the cause of the 1863 riots in New York City. As a finalist, along with Alec Fischthal of Hewlett, N.Y., and Gram Brinson of Houston, Texas, Rajan took home a trophy and a Kindle.
"I didn't even have a clue about many of the questions," said Mary Beth Alagar, the mother of the siblings. "The children did, I guess, because they quiz one another and read a lot of history fiction, history textbooks and atlases."
Now in its second year, the history bee was sponsored last year by the History Channel, which is where Mrs. Alagar discovered it.
"I was very nervous at the bee but plan on entering again next year," said Rajan, who also swims and plays tennis, piano and violin.
The children's father is Ravi Alagar, a pulmonary and intensive care physician. All of the siblings are contest fans, and three have competed at the state level in the geography bee sponsored by the National Geographic Society. All five made it to the national level of the U.S. Geography Challenge held April 26 in Arlington, Va.
Rajan placed ninth in the challenge and also got an honorable mention this year for his science project, "Optimal Conditions for Fruit Ripening," at the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
Other students from the region who participated in the National History Bee were Emily and Gordon Pollock from Winchester Thurston School, Mason Blackburn from Marshall Middle School in Marshall and Sameer Annamraju from Shady Side Academy.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.