'Sophoclean' is hardly Greek to returning spelling champ
Meadow Park's Divya Amirtharaj sets sights on national bee
Preparing for this years Portland Tribune/Comcast Regional Spelling Bee, Divya Amirtharaj invested considerable time and effort learning how to break down words and derive spellings from their roots.
In the case of sophoclean, one of two words that sealed her success as a returning champion, all she had to do was think back to her humanities class at Meadow Park Middle School.
When they called out sophoclean, I felt really good, she says of the word meaning of or related to Greek dramatist Sophocles. In our Greece unit, at the beginning of the year, we spent time on the philosophers Sophocles and Aristotle. We talked about Sophocles and his philosophy, what he taught.
That recent knowledge, coupled with her find-the-root technique for the final word of armamentarium the word for medicine, equipment and techniques available to a medical practitioner led Amirtharaj to champion status on Saturday at the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland.
At the end of 16 rounds, the seventh-grader became only the fourth repeat champion in the bees 10-year history.
It sounded right to me, she says of armamentarium. Putting together all those roots and connective words, I thought it should have been right. But I still had to wait and see if the judges agreed with me.
Amirtharaj, 12, wasnt the only participant to reclaim her position from 2013. This years runner-up, 10-year-old Umbre Khan of the Islamic School of the Muslim Education Trust in Tigard, also came in second to Amirtharaj in the 2013 bee.
This years event featured more than 50 students from the region. The bee saw eight spellers last into later rounds, with four of them heading into the 12th round. Khan and Amirtharaj went head-to-head for two rounds before Khan bowed out on the word burgoo, a word for a typically spicy stew or thick soup.
Amirtharajs performance sends her to the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, held from May 25 to 31 in National Harbor, Md., near Washington, D.C. At last years national bee in Washington, Amirtharaj bowed out in round three of the 16-round tournament.
Based on her extra preparation and the confidence that comes from two regional wins, Amirtharaj set a goal of reaching the semifinals this year.
Im continuing to work on (word) roots, and study more, basically, she says.
Amirtharaj started preparing for this years bee at the outset of the 2013-14 school year. Working with her mother Subha, father Pattu and Mark Wandell, her Summa humanities teacher at Meadow Park, she gradually built up her prep time to one to two hours each weekday and four hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
My mom and dad mainly helped with learning words and practicing spelling them, she says. Mr. Wandell helped me learn about roots and words how theyre constructed. That helped me figure them out even if I havent studied the word.
I can look at words that seem to be really complicated before, she explains. Now I can break them down and see what they mean before I get their spellings. Its really cool.
The more methodical approach contrasts with last years competition, when she relied more on memory and visual recognition.
Last year I was a little short on time. I didnt have time to go through full words and how theyre constructed. I just memorized and learned them. This year I had enough time to learn how to make a word, she says.
When the bee rolled around, Amirtharaj had audience support from her parents as well as her maternal grandfather Sampadh Kumaran, who traveled from his southern India home of Chennai to Portland for the competition.
He had just landed here in the U.S. two days prior to the bee, says Subha Amirtharaj of her 74-year-old father. He was very excited to be there and watch her spell.
Watching her daughter at this years bee proved a little more stressful this year.
I believe she wanted to defend her title, Subha says, so there was much more pressure than last year.
She admits giving Divya a bit of a reality check last fall as they started preparations for the regional bee.
She had an advantage to many other kids because she had been to the national bee, and she put in a lot more effort than (some) kids at their very first bee, she says. I told her, Given all those factors, you do have an advantage, but it wont matter if you dont put in the effort. So she did put in the effort.
Admitting its going to be a challenge to balance preparation for the national bee with her regular schoolwork, Amirtharaj is nonetheless eager to return to the big league competition stage.
The national bee was a lot of fun for me, she says. I would like to do it again.Add a comment