A Local Student’s Road To The National Spelling Bee

Bhavana Madini on stage during the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

The Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. gives kids the biggest platform to show off their language skills to an audience from around the U.S. This year, 10-year-old Bhavana Madini, a student at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School, got her first taste of the major competition.

“I would say that the whole journey started when she was very little,” said Arul Arasu, Madini’s mother. “She was actually good at spelling, reading and writing since childhood. Her first grade teacher was saying that she was doing good at spelling and she told me that she was giving her higher level, third grade words.”

When Arasu heard that from the teacher, she decided to take Madini to some spelling competitions around their area. And just as expected, she won prizes in almost all the events she participated in. She, unfortunately, could not apply for Scripps immediately because her elementary school was not registered with them. But once she moved to POB Middle School, she got her opportunity.

“It started from the classroom,” said Arasu. “The first competition happened in the school by itself. She won the classroom bee and she competed with all the classroom winners at the school level. When she won the school spelling bee, which is from fifth to eighth grade, she competed with all the spelling bee champions on Long Island.”

After completing an online test, Madini and 46 other spellers competed in the Long Island Regional Spelling Bee at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. The competition lasted more than two hours with the event finishing in nine rounds. Madini wrapped up the top prize by spelling the word “Sophic,” a Greek adjective which means “of, relating to, or full of wisdom,” according to Merriam-Webster.

“I was so happy that she got it,” said Arasu. “She worked hard learning many new words, trying to improve her language skills, vocabulary and etymology. She learned all the details about these words.”

Madini was thrilled to have been a part of the regional spelling bee and while just winning was a great achievement, getting the ticket to the national spelling bee was even better.

“It was the best feeling,” said Madini. “[The regional] was very interesting and a good learning experience.”

Madini tied for 51st place out of 565 students.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Madini then had a few months to prepare between the regional and the national competitions. She continued to study words on a daily basis as she prepared to go against some of the best in the country. Scripps provided spellers a list of 600 words to learn and study, from how they are spelled to their origins and meanings.

“The nationals have written tests to see how participants do,” said Arasu. “So from that list, one spelling and one vocabulary test will come from that list of 600 words.”

Madini was able to make it past the testing portion of the event. Ultimately, more than 500 students participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, with only 50 students making it to the final round that would see, for the first time in history, eight kids win the national title.

Unfortunately, Madini just barely missed to cut to the finals. However, she placed 51st in the event, ranking above 90 percent of the field.

“We are really happy, especially for her first time,” said Arasu. “She’s a fifth-grader and she is competing against everybody up to eighth grade. So top 50 makes it into the finals. We really wanted her to make it into finals. I know you can’t become a champion your first time but we had a goal to make it into the finals. She missed the cut by two points, but I’m really happy the hard work paid off.”

“I’m really happy I got this far,” said Madini. “I didn’t think I would be. I’m very happy that, even though I didn’t make it to the finals, I made it this far.”

Arasu is thankful of the support by the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District and looks forward to doing it all again next year.

“I hope next year I can get even farther,” said Madini.

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