South Windsor sending its first competitor to National Spelling Bee

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., May. 11, 2011
Sairah Sheikh humbly describes the trophies she won by participating in South Windsor's first spelling bee competition.
Sairah Sheikh humbly describes the trophies she won by participating in South Windsor's first spelling bee competition.

South Windsor is about to send its first competitor to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Two-hundred seventy-five spellers from across the United States, ages 8 to 15, will assemble in Washington, D.C., for the 76th annual three-day competition beginning on May 30. There will be only three competitors from Connecticut.

Eli Terry Elementary School fifth-grader Sairah Sheikh won the South Windsor district finals in February, competing against 23 other students from the elementary and middle schools. Her winning word was “commiserate.”

This was the first year in which the spelling bee was held in South Windsor. It was a partnership of the South Windsor Community Foundation, the South Windsor Public Education Fund and the South Windsor schools. The local competitions started in October 2010. Sairah took first place for her class, followed by second place in her school championship, before winning the district finals and the all-expense-paid trip for herself and one parent to the National Spelling Bee.

According to Vincent Federici, fifth-grade teacher at Eli Terry Elementary School, Sairah's victory at the spelling bee has inspired her classmates, as well as other students at Eli Terry who have never met her before. “It proves that hard work, dedication and effort are the keys to achieving your dreams,” noted Federici. “Sairah's trip to the spelling bee national competition is more about her living up to her own expectations of excellence than winning against opponents.”

Sairah seems like any other 10-year-old, saying that recess and lunch are her school favorites. “I like to read a lot, and I like science,” added Sairah, saying she especially enjoys learning about the earth. She also loves playing “Mario Sports Mix” on Wii, which was a present from her family for winning the South Windsor spelling bee.

“At first I didn’t want to [compete],” said Sairah about the spelling bee, “because I thought I would lose. I never competed in anything else.” Her mother, Nadia Sheikh, convinced her to give it a try, saying it would build her confidence.

To prepare for the spelling bee, Sairah studied words on various computer lists and online with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Spell-It.  By studying the words, definitions and root languages, Sairah began to see certain patterns that helped her to correctly spell unfamiliar words.  For example, she noticed words stemming from Greek often contain the letters “y” and “ph.” She studies spelling at least 40 minutes at home every day.

For the trip to the National Spelling Bee, Sairah will be accompanied by her mother, Nadia, her father, Asim, and her 6-year-old brother, Zuhair.  “I want to go to the White House, the Mint and the Smithsonian,” said Sairah enthusiastically. “It’s exciting for me,” she added, “I’ll get to see what Washington’s like.”

She is, of course, hoping to win the spelling bee, but for a special reason. “If you win, you get to meet him [the president],” she said. “It would be a great honor.” Through the South Windsor spelling bee, Sairah said she met the mayor and members of the Town Council.

Looking back on the experience, Sairah’s mother said, “It was a nice experience. She has much more courage than before. Seeing her confidence makes me very happy.”

“It’s very nerve-wracking,” said Sairah about being in the spelling bee. “When my mom first signed me up, I was very nervous.” She said she has learned to handle the pressure. “Now, I think they’re exciting, even if you do lose.”

If Sairah wins at the National Spelling Bee, she will be the first winner from Connecticut, and also one of the younger winners. “Even if I don’t win, I’ll know that I did my best,” said Sairah, “and there’s always next year.”


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