Nine area schools are sending participants to the 18th annual Pa. Citizen Bee May 3 at the Carbon County Courthouse.

The Bee is an educational outreach program sponsored by The Times News.

Citizen Bee contestants participate individually, first completing a 30-minute written exam followed by five rounds of oral questions. Cash prizes of $300, $200, $100 and $100 will be presented.

The competition tests participants' knowledge of U.S. history, economics, geography, Pa. studies, local history and current events. This year's participants range from freshmen to seniors.

At one time, the Citizen Bee involved local, state and national competitions. When the national and state competitions disappeared, Times News publisher Fred Masenheimer decided to continue the local competition.

Each school is allowed three contestants and one alternate who may participate if one of the other three cannot attend. Schools participating are Carbon Career & Technical Institute, Jim Thorpe, Marian Catholic, Northern Lehigh, Palmerton, Lehighton, Panther Valley, Tamaqua and Weatherly.

Last year Jason Gates from Panther Valley High School, placed first; Michael Hoffman of Northern Lehigh, second; Schuyler Schmidt of Tamaqua, third; and Brent Green of Palmerton, fourth.

The public is invited to attend. The oral round of questions generally begins around 7:15 p.m. Registration begins at 6 p.m. The written exam begins at 6:30.

Assisting with this year's Citizen Bee are Mary Ruth Taylor, Jeff James and Joseph Riccette, written exam proctors; District Judge Edward Lewis, Carbon County Court Administrator Roberta Brewster, Rep. Jerry Knowles, judges; District Judge Steve Bayer, appeals judge; Drusilla Laughman, timekeeper; Maureen Donovan, moderator; and Amy Miller, scorekeeper.

The local Citizen Bee is coordinated by George Taylor, editor of the Bethlehem Press weekly newspaper published by the Times News' Lehigh Valley Press newspaper group.

See a slide show of last year's competition at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjongKbUwPs.