PUBLISHED: 4:40 PM on Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Fourth-grader first to score perfect on state capital quiz

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Jonas Wahl, a fourth-grader at Mendenhall River Community School, is the first student in 17 years to correctly identify and name all 50 states and capitals on Kathleen O'Daniel's test.
Naming the 50 states with respective capitals may sound simple enough. Add on the challenge of identifying each state in the process can be a bit more difficult.

For 17 years fourth-graders in Kathleen O'Daniel's class at Mendenhall River Community School have stepped up to the plate. Students take the test about once a month during the school year until each student master's the list. For the first time since starting the tradition, one of O'Daniel's students passed the test with 100 percent on the first attempt. Jonas Wahl, 10, said he prepared himself by looking at the map and with the help of his parents.

"The really small ones are hard, but I figured them out," Wahl said. "The big ones are easy."

Wahl said he wasn't nervous about taking the test because he had worked hard to learn the material, and he was excited when he heard that he not only passed but received a perfect score.

"He was ecstatic, and he was walking around the room just laughing. Having Jonas pass really gets the rest of the class motivated," O'Daniel said. "When I was grading his test I almost cried. I got goosebumps. I've had kids come close and pass, but not 100 percent. I was so proud of him. The best part was that Jonas was so happy about it."

O'Daniel said before students begin learning what each state looks like along with the name and capital, she has them attempt to name as many states and capitals from memory as they can.

"Usually they can get three or five. I have had a few get 15, but that's rare," O'Daniel said.

She said students come up with their own methods for remembering each state and capital, including doing puzzles, making posters and creating rhymes. Wahl has autism, which is classified as a neurodeveleopmental disorder that manifests in delays of social interaction, language as used in social communication or symbolic or imaginative play, according to O'Daniel said if Wahl got over stimulated and tired, he would often rest by the map of the United States.

"He struggles with some things, but he's really very bright, and he's got an incredible memory. I figured he could memorize the states and capitals, but I never thought he'd be able to identify the states," O'Daniel said. "He would just lay there and stare at the map. I had no idea what was sinking in over there."

Now when students are taking their states and capitals test, Wahl may use the free time how he chooses. He said he would probably play a computer game.

O'Daniel said that learning the state information is in the fourth-grade curriculum, but she also sees it as an asset to be able to know what each state looks like and where it is in the country.

"Every kid should know what our country looks like," O'Daniel said. "When they hear something about Idaho on the news, they know where that is. They know the states in the north are cold and the ones in the south are warmer. It improves the quality of life."

Wahl is the son of John and Linda Wahl and brother of sister Raven Wahl.