STUDENTS | March 26, 2021
After four straight years of placing in the top five in her school spelling bee at Earhart Elementary School—but never coming out on top—eighth-grade student Danielle A. was preparing to purposely misspell a word in her classroom bee this year to ease the disappointment of being so close to winning.
But her teacher, Mrs. Petrowsky, encouraged her, telling her that this would be her year. Her advice ended up being spot on—not only did Danielle win the spelling bee at Earhart, she is the newly-crowned city champion and will be representing CPS at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“Once I made it pretty far in the citywide spelling bee, I kept telling myself that I had to bring this home for my family and my school,” she said. “I just had to keep my focus and stay in the game—and knock out 28 other people, which is really hard.”
A love of spelling runs in Danielle’s family; her older sister, an Earhart graduate, also won the school spelling bee when she was Danielle’s age. To prepare for this year’s competition, Danielle says that her method was to look at each word and then look away and try to remember how it was spelled. Her older sister would help by writing down any words she missed for her to practice later.
Now that this is Danielle’s final year at Earhart, she wants to pass down her passion for spelling to her two younger sisters, who are in fourth and first grade.
“When I won the city bee, my mom turned to my younger sisters and said: ‘You’re next,’” she said. “Since my sister and I both won, I think it would be great for them to go far too.”
In each competition, one of Danielle’s strategies was to always ask for each word’s definition and for it to be used in a sentence—two requests that are typically allowed and encouraged in spelling bees. Even though she was competing virtually, having those extra bits of information often helped her think through how the word would most likely be spelled.
“I usually like when I get the word in a sentence because how they say it helps me figure out how I am going to spell it,” she said. “The definition is what I can use to know if I’m thinking of the right word or if it’s another word that’s similar to the one I am thinking of.”
Having started competing in spelling bees in the fourth grade, Danielle attributes spelling as being the stimulant for a larger academic shift that took place during her time at Earhart. Once she started spelling, her grades improved and she took the initiative to join other extracurricular activities such as Beta Club and Battle of the Books. She’s also become more confident.
“With spelling bees, people might try to intimidate you and tell you that they can spell better than you,” she said. “Just ignore them and focus on you and your word and everything will run smoothly for you.”
While participating in the Scripps National Spelling Bee is certainly a big victory for Danielle, she’s quick to point out that it’s also huge for her school. After she won, she says one of the first things she did was to contact her principal and all her teachers, and she is looking forward to representing them all when she competes against students from across the country.
“When it hit me that I was going to the national level, I thought: ‘Has this ever happened before for Earhart?’” she said. “A big win for me is a big win for my school because I’ve been here since kindergarten, and they’ve really been counting on me to take this home.”
Watch Danielle’s winning moment here!