DULUTH - Stuart Hench has always excelled in geography, but he never expected to earn the top score in the nation on a test he took last spring.
Especially when he didn't know about the test until the day he took it.
Hench, a sophomore at Duluth High School, participated in the National Geography Challenge, which tests students in grades 2 to 12 on their knowledge of physical and human geography. Hench was one of about 70 students at his school who chose to participate in the challenge, said Geri Flanary, chair of the social studies department.
The school advertised the National Council for Geographic Education-sponsored challenge and invited students to participate, but Hench said he didn't notice the announcements.
"He just showed up," Flanary said. "It's not like he went home and studied for it. He just knew it, which is a great tribute to his knowledge."
Hench earned the nation's top score among ninth-graders.
"It's something I'm very proud of," Hench said. "I've been fascinated ever since I was young by geography, and I think it shows in my work."
Jacqueline Anderson taught Hench last year in gifted geography. She said he was a leader in the classroom.
"In a teacher's world the greatest gift is learning something from your own students," Anderson said. "Stuart did that for me."
Flanary said she likes the National Geography Challenge because it promotes awareness of and validates the school subject, which students are not required to take.
"Having a national winner at our school, of course, makes us proud," she said.