Before being eliminated on the word “serictery” – a word most adults would be hard pressed to define or spell – Whitney Young 7th-grader Christine Alex had reached the semi-final round of the 2014 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
An avid reader, Christine attributes her spelling ability to an interest in language and vocabulary and many hours of practice. Her journey to the National Spelling Bee began with a victory at Whitney Young, after which she placed in the region’s top 50 spellers. She won the citywide competition by correctly spelling the word “maraschino”, then advanced to nationals for the second time in three years.
“I was really excited, and less anxious this time because I knew what to expect,” said Christine, who confessed that she gets more nervous about the audience than about correctly spelling the words.
Prior to being eliminated, Christine successfully spelled such words as “cynosure”, “tardigrade” and “fustigate”, and was on her way to being ranked 13th in the nation before getting tripped up on “serictery”.
“It was disappointing to be eliminated, but I still think I did relatively well,” she said. “And I definitely want to go back next year. It’s a great way to meet people with similar talents and improve spelling and vocabulary skills.”
Christine wasn’t the only CPS standout in D.C. this year. Over the past few months, talent and perseverance have taken several students to the nation’s capital for a variety of competitions and experiences. Take Antwon Lamon – a Washington High School graduate who recently showed off his award-winning 3D game at the first-ever White House Maker Fair, and Lincoln Park senior John Thomas Moore, who was among the group of high school students who presented President Obama with an original robot. Meanwhile, at nearby University of Maryland, several CPS students showcased their projects at the National History Day Competition.
These students included four 6th-graders from Decatur Classical – Casey Wangman, who performed Jeannie Hodges Incognito: A Revelation of Empowered Women in the Civil War; Olivia Fergus-Brummer, whose topic was Irish immigration; and the documentary team of James Rockey and Joey Padmanabhan, who created the film The 1968 Democratic Convention: The National Stage for Freedom of Expression.
For James and Joey, the competition became fierce at the state level, as they knew that only 2 of the 35 documentaries submitted would be selected for nationals.
“I was really honored that they picked us out of so many tremendous documentaries,” said Joey. “I did feel proud when they called our name, but I didn’t want to get too cocky going into nationals.”
The NHD competition is open to students in grades 6-8, thus James and Joey were among the youngest to qualify. Their documentary incorporated a variety of digital media, including original video footage from the 1968 Democratic Convention.
“The 60s were an era of growing media where people became more dependent on television for their news,” said James. “We wanted to use that medium to incorporate those video clips from the convention into our film.”
As excited as they were by the competition, the boys were equally transfixed by the iconic nature of Washington, D.C.
“I was awe struck by the monuments,” said Joey, who had never before visited the city. “You read all about these places, but to see them in person…I was at a loss for words.”
On the day of the contest, the boys presented their film to three judges who then interviewed them about their topic, their research process, and the making of their documentary. Though they did not advance to the finals, both James and Joey found the experience gratifying and look forward to competing again next year. They also enjoyed the opportunity to cheer on a former classmate as she took her project to the final round.
Taft 8th-grader Kristen Rigsby, formerly a student at Decatur Classical, won the competition’s website category with her original site titled Robert McCormick” Defining the Rights and Responsibilities of a Free Press.
“We were pretty good friends with her, so it was cool to get to cheer for her,” said James. “She’d won just about every award you can get at Decatur, so I wasn’t surprised to see her do so well.”