"LMS spelling champion heads to Washington, D.C."
June 25, 2008 · Updated 11:43 AM
"At Langley Middle School, both students and teachers know how to spell winner -- E-M-M-A.Seventh grader Emma Barker-Perez put herself in the school's spelling hall of fame when she beat all-comers at a regional spelling bee in Mount Vernon to win a trip to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.To do it, Barker-Perez had spell zigzaggedness, tithable, spinose, and several other uncommon words during the Mt. Vernon bee held March 27.Even though she studied for weeks beforehand, it wasn't easy to come up with those spellings, because she had never seen those three words before. That did not play into her strategy.If I see a word enough times, I remember it, she said.Perez-Barker made it to the regional bee after winning a school-wide bee at Langley Middle School. In both competitions, she had to outspell not only other seventh graders, but the older eighth graders as well. I'm just really glad I go to go to nationals, she said.The best study aid Perez-Barker has had in preparing for spelling bees is her tape recorder. While going through official bee word lists and dictionaries, she records herself saying and spelling words, and notes each word's language of origin. In competition, knowing whether a word is German, Italian, or French makes all the difference in how she spells it. The other secret to Perez-Barker's spelling success is a bit more intangible. She has a lucky number and a lucky animal. She settled on 5 being her lucky number after placing fifth in the regional competition as a fifth grader, having number 5 as her contestant number at this week's bee, and because her birthday is on May 5. Her parents came up with her lucky animal, after Perez-Barker correctly spelled several prickly words relating to the animal, including spinose.My parents think the porcupine is my lucky animal, she said.Not only did Perez-Barker learn about spelling words during the recent bees, she also had her first run-in with pressure and stress. Though she did not feel it acutely during the competition, afterwards, when friends or family members would ask her to spell a word for them, she found herself overcome by a strange feeling -- even when her father jokingly asked her to spell cat. Every time they said that, my head would hurt a little, she said. For the next week or two, Perez-Barker is on a spelling study break. But she knows she is going to have to put her nose to the study grindstone to work on the sort of words that show up at the national bee. Examples in the bee's study guide include pickelhaube, espadrille, scopolamine, and seiche.Perez-Barker said she is a bit intimidated after looking up last year's words on the Internet. They're really hard, she said.Scripps Howard is paying for Perez-Barker's trip to Washington, D.C., as well as a ticket for a family member. She said both her parents, Albert Perez and Laurie Barker-Perez, and perhaps her older brother will make the trip to watch her spell with the best.LMS graduate Hannah Shafaat won the regional meet three years ago as a seventh grader. She, too, made the trip to nationals."