Wednesday, May 30, 2007

spelling bee time

Today was the 1st day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee with tomorrow evening being the big final televised on ABC. Last year I drove the kids down to my mother's house to watch some of the competition, but being in a different state might lead me to ask that nice homeschooling family down the street if they could possibly tape it for me. Our hometown girl, homeschooler Rebecca Willet made it to the next round so I would love to cheer her on.
Being a mediocre speller myself I feel drawn towards the perfection that these children exhibit in such a highly competitive environment. Yes, high school sports and musical concerts are difficult, but somehow they don't incite the same admiration that I muster for a 12 year old able to recall a word like ursprache, the 2006 final word. I was amazed last year at how few of the words I had even heard of, much less be able to spell. Even if we don't get to see it, I think we will have a movie night this week featuring Akela and the Bee, a fictionalized account of a girl with a gift of spelling.
Here are some interesting statistics about the competitors this year:


2 fourth graders (.7%)

23 fifth graders (8.04%)

36 sixth graders (12.6%)

88 seventh graders (30.76%)

137 eighth graders (47.9%)

School Type:

192 public (67.13%)

38 private (13.29%)

36 home (12.59%)

14 parochial (4.9%)

5 charter (1.75%)

1 virtual (.34%)

After a homeschooled student won the National Geography Bee last week, a number of media types have begun again asking why homeschoolers tend to be represented well and score high in such competitions.

What is it about home-schooled students that make them such competitive spellers?
Of the 286 students who will compete in the National Spelling Bee next week, 36 are home schooled. While only 3 percent of all students are homeschooled, they typically make up 10 to 15 percent of contestants in the national bee. And they love to win.
Homeschoolers captured first, second and third place in 2000 and won in 2001. They've placed in the top 10 every year since. And this year, a favorite to win is Samir Patel, 13, who is home-schooled in Colleyville, Texas.

My basic answer would be that homeschoolers have loads of free time to pursue whatever interests them, be it sports or spelling, music or engineering, and if so motivated, to a point of mastery. Also, homeschooling parents tend to provide an atmosphere of love of learning, rather than one emphasizing materialism or popularity. In our home Will practices the piano and both he and Mary work hard at their schoolwork because I tell them to and because they don't know that in many schools it is uncool to study hard and be smart. He is a much better speller than his sister and if he keeps up in his success in the subject next year, we might have to look into him trying out in a local bee. Who knows? He may just be the 2011 champion!
update: apparently our favorite speller was eliminated from the competition on Thursday afternoon.
Rebecca Willett was four minutes away from the semifinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday evening.
All that stood between her and Thursday's televised rounds was a word that means "gathering pollen with a brush on the abdomen" and sounds like a medical condition.
The 12-year-old Virginia Beach resident had never seen the word before. She used most of her allotted two minutes at the microphone asking questions to suss out the spelling.
Then she tried it: "G-a-s-t-r-i-l-o-g-o-u-s."
The bell dinged.
"One lousy letter," said a resigned Scott Willett, Rebecca's dad.
The word, absent from many dictionaries, is spelled "gastrilegous."
Oddly enough, Rebecca's placard also was off by a single letter.
It spelled her home state "Virgina."

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