South Windsor students getting in shape for national spelling bee

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Wed., Dec. 18, 2013
Nikhil listens to the correct spelling of a word before writing it into his notebook during the second practice session for the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, held at the South Windsor Public Library Dec. 12. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Nikhil listens to the correct spelling of a word before writing it into his notebook during the second practice session for the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, held at the South Windsor Public Library Dec. 12. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

Ten-year-old Keshav has been practicing diligently with his brother and father, in hopes of making it to the nationals again as a contestant in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee (http://www.spellingbee.com).

Last year, Keshav traveled to the contest venue just outside Washington, D.C., with South Windsor children’s librarian Sandy Westbrook after achieving the highest score in the regional competition.

The upcoming regional contest will be in New Haven on Jan. 11, 2014. The national bee takes place May 25 to 31, 2014.

At the last national contest, "I was in 43rd place," Keshav said with head held high… after all, this is one tough competition.

In addition to accomplished spellers from across the U.S., the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee will include contestants from the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and Korea, as well as from Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Keshav won a $100 VISA card for his placement, which was just icing on the cake of a great experience, he said.

Westbrook noted that champions often enter the competition multiple times before winning.

The national champion receives $30,000, an engraved trophy, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a reference library. Last year’s champion was 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali from Bayside Hills, N.Y.; it was his fourth consecutive attempt.

Keshav was getting back into form at the second practice session held at the South Windsor Public Library Dec. 12 that attracted 17 boys and eight girls.

Some were too young to compete in the national bee, which is for grades five through eight, but Westbrook encouraged third- and fourth-graders to attend practices to get a taste of the competition and maybe take part in the future, she said.

School districts enrolled in the Scripps National Spelling Bee receive a list of 450 words that may or may not be part of the contest,  including some that might prove challenging even for adults, such as mugwump, sororal, hackamore, regnal, bloviate and hoi polloi.

The regional contest, however, will be an open-dictionary quiz in which words will be chosen at random.

At the library practice, children took turns coming to the front of the room, facing the others and spelling words from the Scripps list. Westbrook encouraged the children to also try spelling the word silently to themselves and then write the correctly spelled word in their notebooks.

Youngsters soon learned that "sounding out" a word isn’t always the best strategy. Given the word "excerpt," for example, one child made a stab at it as "eggsert." Another tackling a tougher word, "abominate," offered "abombanate."

At the national level, in a kind of elimination round, competitors will sit at a computer and listen to words spoken to them through headphones, then type the words and choose a definition from multiple possibilities.

At the library session, students were told they can ask specific questions that might help them retrieve a word’s spelling from their memory.

They can ask for a definition (except during a vocabulary quiz); its part of speech (i.e., noun, verb, adjective); origin of the word (i.e. derived from Latin); to hear it used in a sentence; and if there’s another way of pronouncing it.

Asked if a contestant can bring paper and pencil to the stage to prod the brain by writing the word, Westbrook said that’s against the rules, "but it’s okay to use your index finger to trace the word in your palm."

Keshav added, "In the National Spelling Bee, they have a very strict rule that you can’t bring anything into the computer room, not even your lucky bracelet."

Getting the local winner to the national venue costs thousands of dollars, Westbrook noted, including air fare, a hotel room and food for the length of stay. These costs are usually covered by local sponsors, she said.


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