AP NEWS

Spelling success for Bridgeport magnet student

March 16, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Janelle Newell and Multicultural Magnet School Principal Luis Planas have a deal. She does well in a spelling bee and he buys her a pizza.

Janelle, 12, has had a lot of pizza lately.

For the second year in a row, the seventh-grader is headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., where she rates the pizza a tad below the plain, thin-crust, New York-style cheese pizzas she is used to at home.

Last year, after coming in third in the state contest, Janelle was invited to the national competition. This year, she earned her spot by placing first above 41 other competitors in the state.

It took 17 rounds, and Janelle had to get past words like ergonomic, babushka, bildungsroman, and Spencerian.

She had no idea what some of the words meant.

She does now.

“Spencerian means a slanted type of writing.” said Janelle, who when she is not pondering words origins and parts of speech, seems rather quiet.

“I’m good at it, so I do it,” she shrugged, gaining confidence as she spoke. “At first it was not interesting, but it teaches you about root words.”

She likes that, especially since her intent is to be an author.

Janelle reads as much as she can. Meg Cabot, is her favorite author. She likes arts and playing the violin more than science — even though she is active in an after school STEM program at the Discovery Museum.

“We work on different things, like now we are working on a weather forecast and we are going to film it,” Janelle said. “I am the meteorologist.”

Janelle learned she was good in spelling in the fourth grade, when she won a classroom competition.

Capturing the school title did not come until Natilie Mikhaeel, who was Multicultural’s reigning champ, graduated from the K-8 school. Before that, Natilie’s older brother, Abram Goda, was spelling his way to regional and national competitions.

Janelle said she is not sure where to attribute her knack for spelling words.

Her mom, Stacey Ann Graham, is a nurse.

“My mom helps a lot. She provides encouragement,” said Janelle. “But she sometimes has trouble pronouncing the words.”

Planas said Janelle practices her spelling first thing every single morning when she gets to school.

“It doesn’t matter the day, she sits down, practicing her words, making sure she is prepared,” he said.

Janelle said she tries to learn as many new words as possible. She expects it will all come in handy when she takes the SAT’s.

This time during nationals — May 26 through June 1, 2019 — Janelle said she hopes to reconnect with friends she made last year. Her goal is to make it into the top 100 of the 500 competitors.

Yes, she is nervous. She is not fond of stress.

“Being in a spelling bee is really hard and if you are not determined you will never make it far,” she said. “You have to be determined.”