Oak Creek fifth grader Anushka Nair loves to spell and her passion for words recently won her big honors at the regional competition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

'I love words,' she said. 'I love to read also and reading was one of my main factors in preparing for the spelling bee.'

Nair had plenty of practice to prepare her for the competition, which is sponsored by Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, Comcast and Hollywood Theatre. Her teachers, Betsy McCarthy and Amy Wetzel, used a variety of methods to help Nair and their other students become strong spellers.

'I studied roots of words and just kept reading,' Nair said. 'I always have my nose in a book.'

When asked if she was nervous at the competition, she replied that she had a tools with her to keep her calm, including a special dragon pendant and encouragement from her grandmother.

'My knees were wobbly when I went up (on the stage),' she said. 'But the comradery of the contestants relaxed me. I realized I was competing against the words, not against the other people.'

Nair made it through 11 rounds before she misspelled the word 'habitus.' But her valiant effort was good enough to land her in third place in the regional competition.

'I am really, really happy for (the winner) Katie Carter. She was from Village Home School. She gets to represent us at the national competition in May in Washington, D.C.'

When asked if she had any tips for other students wishing to become strong spellers, Nair said that she often associates visuals with words.

'Like (the music term) 'pizzicato' - I compare it to 'pizza.' Visuals help me to remember and anchor me to the word,' she said.

Nair said competing in the spelling bee was fun and just a part of her educational journey.

'I enjoy spelling,' she said. 'It's a main hobby of mine. I like to learn a lot each day.'

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