Thursday, April 23, 2015

Woodlands teen Shobha Dasari keeps winning with words


Shobha Dasari knows how to spell success.

After taking the title of co-champion in the Houston Public Media Spelling Bee, the 14-year-old whiz-with-words from The Woodlands is preparing to head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

It will be her third year to go and her last chance to compete. The event is only open to students who have not yet graduated eighth grade and Dasari heads to high school next year.

"The anxiety doesn't kick in until a week before the bee," she said. "Nationals are really fun. The excitement hasn't worn off. I also know what to expect, and that makes things easier for me."

She has a month to practice. Her mother Usha is her primary coach and her brother Shourav, who is also a competitive speller, enjoys helping out as well.

"He likes to find crazy words in the dictionary that I don't know how to spell," Dasari said.

She was inspired to compete after reading a book her mother bought her at the school book fair, titled "How to Spell Like a Champ."

Dasari participated in her first spelling bee while in third grade. The next year, she won her first competition. Now, she competes in a number of different bees each year, which means practicing is a constant part of her schedule.

"My only off-season is the beginning of the school year, but I'm still studying even then," Dasari said. "It's a lot like a sport. Athletes in their off-season still train, because they don't want to lose it."

Besides, she enjoys spelling and going to the bees. "I consider myself a pretty competitive person," she said. "I also just like learning the words and the stories behind the words."

Dasari added that the competitions make for an ideal setting to meet other students her age with similar interests.

"You meet other spellers, and I've made a lot of friends that way that I'm still in touch with," she said.

She is looking forward to heading to "Bee Week," which is slated for May 24-29.

This is Dasari's fifth year to compete at the Houston Public Media Spelling Bee and third time as co-champion. After 15 rounds with 55 total spellers from 42 Texas counties, she took home the prize alongside Siddharth Krishnakumar, a seventh grader at Pearland Junior High West in Pearland ISD.

"Boutonniere" was the winning word for Dasari.

The bee was broadcast live on television and streamed online on March 28.

Connie Hill, director of interactive education at Houston Public Media, explained that the Houston bee is the second largest local spelling bee in the nation.

She said that this is the seventh year Houston Public Media has sponsored the local event for Scripps.

"The Scripps spelling bee is pretty much the highest level academic event," Hill said. "It's been going on for so long and it has a national profile. For those who compete in this, it's like the World Series."

Hill said schools start joining the program in August and enroll through Scripps.

At every school, a dedicated spelling bee coordinator helps with the effort. In the fall, schools start conducting their on-campus bees.

"Each school chooses how they want to do it; they can do it by classroom or grave level," Hill said. "Every school produces one champion."

Those students then head to the play-off competitions in February. "We narrow it down to 50 or 60 final spellers at our spelling bee," Hill said.

This year, there were 27 girls and 28 boys, ranging in age from 7 to 14.

Hill is impressed with Dasari's achievement. Just making it to the Houston bee is a major accomplishment, she explained.

"That's one of the highest records - to make it for five years to the final level," Hill said. "And she's made it to nationals for two years already. She will definitely be one to watch."

In the spelling world, Dasari is a star. "Other spellers from all over the country know who she is," Hill said. "She's a celebrity."

For the past few years, Dasari was enrolled in Pearland ISD. Her family moved to The Woodlands over the summer and this year, she is a student at McCullough Junior High.

When Dasari is not spelling, she enjoys art and studying Indian classical dance. She recently started playing viola.

When she can no longer compete in the spelling bees, she plans to spend more time studying her favorite subject, science.

Her mother Usha said that Dasari excels at whatever she tries to do – whether it's art and music or spelling competitions and science fairs.

"The spelling bee taught motivation and dedication to Shobha," she said. "Certainly, she's very well-rounded, and we're very proud of her."

Bee Week 2015 will take place May 24 to May 29. For more information about the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee,
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