Meet Isaac Zerke: Ellis Middle School history whiz to compete in National History Bee

April 8, 2018

AUSTIN — Ask Isaac Zerke any history question and his eyes light up as he spouts facts about famous figures and wars throughout history.

“I found out the word kaiser is actually the German word for caesar, and czar is the Russian word for caesar,” the Austin 13-year-old said with a hint of a smile. “That’s something I didn’t know before. … I find it to be interesting.”

That interest grew into a passion. Zerke frequented the Austin Public Library, plowing through collections of biographies and thick history books. He finds happiness in watching history videos that expand his view of the world’s past.

Putting everything he learned to the test, the Ellis Middle School eighth-grader has been invited to compete against students from all over the United States in the ACE National History Bee, May 31 to June 3 in Atlanta.

Zerke will be the first student to represent Ellis at the national history bee, Principal Jason Senne said.

“I was really excited to hear that Isaac had done so well at the state competition and qualified for the national bee,” Senne said. “Isaac is a great kid, and Ellis Middle School staff are so proud of his accomplishment.”

‘Find what you love’

After Isaac came home from school with an invitation to compete in the ACE History Bee, his mother, Kim Zerke, a Banfield Elementary School music teacher, registered him to take an online test.

He did well on the test, which qualified him to go a regional history bee at Prior Lake High School on March 24. There, Isaac took another online test and competed in buzzer rounds against other students. He placed among the top contestants and was invited to try his hand at the National History Bee in Georgia.

Isaac took an optional quiz at regionals and will also compete in a mini geography bowl while attending the history bee. He will also compete in a civics bowl to answer questions about American history and government.

Isaac participated in the National Geographic Bee when he was in seventh grade and competed at the state contest at the University of Minnesota at Mankato.

At the history bee, questions are written and edited by history teachers, professors and other social studies educators from across the country. Content is split evenly between United States history and global history, and is generally relevant to 5th- through 8th-grade social studies curricula, which Isaac reviews through online study guides.

“I’m not really nervous,” Isaac said. “It’s fun.”

This competition doesn’t come without expenses. Registration and hotel costs add up to $850, and airfare and meals will push the total to about $1,200.

So, the Zerke family is hosting a fundraiser at the Pizza Ranch in Austin on May 28 from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Win or lose, Kim Zerke is proud of her son.

“This is a boy who has had a subscription to the Smithsonian and the National Geographic History magazines for years. I am very proud of how smart Isaac is, and I want him to do what he loves.”