2 September 2014

My Middle School S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G Bee Experiences

Many American schools nowadays collaborate with the Scripps National Spelling Bee in an annual attempt to lead one of their students to victory.

Scripps sometimes also includes international competitors, as well as residents of U.S. territories, and students who are home-schooled and virtually-schooled.

So, yes, I was a spelling nerd in middle school. (I still am, actually. It's just less relevant now that I'm older.)

Where it came from:

From an early age in my childhood I slowly became more interested in reading and writing. This largely contributed to my decision to enter spelling bees.

My first spelling bee happened in fourth grade, but because my school district considered kids of that age to be too young to participate in the official competition, it was mostly just for academic enrichment. That bee included twenty-four of my peers (fun fact: the second-place student in that bee was my best friend). It's a bit redundant now, I think, because the prize was only a holographic bookmark and a small gift certificate to the local bookstore. (Books! So it wasn't a total waste of time, right?)

Everybody loves winning, but I've long had a competitive and perfectionistic nature. (I'm trying to work on that.) So, my triumph in this first spelling bee fueled my love of excellence.

I've always easily comprehended the "rules" of the English language, and I have an eye for detail when it comes to grammar and spelling. This definitely also gave me an advantage.

How it happened:

The levels of spelling bees in my school, in increasing order, went as follows: class level, school level, regional level, and then national level. Basically, if a single student managed to win a class-wide, a school-wide, and then a region-wide spelling bee all within the same academic year, he or she would be eligible to participate in the Scripps spelling bee. (Some areas of the U.S. also have local/community and state-wide spelling bees.)

It all began with a class-wide competition that would involve each student in the classroom. (If they ended up winning, they could decide whether to continue to the school-wide bee or whether to give that offer to the runner-up student. They weren't forced to continue with spelling bees, if they didn't want to.)

In sixth grade, I won the class and school spelling bees and had a big fourth-place finish at the regional bee. (In other words, I was three places away from going to the national competition.) I won an Amazon gift card and a subscription to the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Around school I became known by my classmates, as well as students who were younger and older than I was, as simply "the smart girl who's good at spelling" (not my words).

The following year, my stamina for spelling bees had decreased, but I still participated. This time I won the class and school bees (as I had in sixth grade), but I did a little worse after that and made it about halfway through the regional bee.

In eighth grade, I won the class spelling bee before deciding to give up on it, and I handed my place to the next runner-up.

Why it ended:

I was eleven when I participated in my first middle school (A.K.A. "serious") spelling bee. I was thirteen when I participated in my final one.

I stopped because of the pressure. Since I came so close to the national competition in sixth grade, people expected me to meet or surpass those expectations the next year. Many of my schoolmates only knew who I was because of my reputation with spelling bees, and I felt like I would disappoint so many people.

Studying for spelling bees takes a lot of time and energy, too. For a couple of months, I actually tried reading the 1600+ pages of a dictionary in my house. (I got about halfway through the B section.) My school gave me lists of words that were organized based on each word's linguistic origins. (Side note: Dutch is a beautiful language, but English words that are derived from Dutch are hard as hell to spell.)

The aftereffects:

Well, now I have something impressive to put on college applications. Universities like to see academic achievements, right? Do spelling bees also count as an extracurricular activity?

Also, Akeelah and the Bee temporarily became my most treasured film. I still like it, too.

I don't know if I want to have kids of my own, but if I do, I won't discourage them from competing in spelling bees (as long as they wholeheartedly want to participate). The truth is, competition is hard. But sometimes it's a good way to learn, and obviously learning is a very important thing for kids to do.

I consider the most important effect of my spelling bee involvement to be the friendship I formed with one of my teachers. He was my Spanish teacher for my last two years of middle school, and he is (as of now) the best teacher I have ever had. (Not to mention, he teaches my favourite school subject.) But it wasn't until I started competing in spelling bees that he told me about his own middle-school days, when he participated in the exact same regional bee that I did.

So you see, spelling bees make you appreciate other people. Isn't the English language great?

You can visit the website of the Scripps National Spelling Bee here.

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