AP NEWS

KISD students to compete in state-wide Spelling Bee

March 11, 2019

When Keerthana Krishnan was four, she could figure out many of the terms her pharmacist mother would commonly come across on the job. Maybe she didn’t know the definition of words like “analgesics” or “compounding,” but Keerthana learned how to put the the letters together and sound it out.

“She could say ‘pharmacology’ even though she didn’t know what it was,” said her father, Vinod Krishnan.

That easy way with words will come in handy March 23 when Keerthana represents the Katy Independent School District in this year’s Houston Public Media Spelling Bee. Keerthana, 13 and a seventh grader at Beckendorff Junior High, got the opportunity after her recent victory in the Katy ISD’s competition. Joining her in the contest against more than 50 other elementary and junior high spellers from throughout Texas will be 12-year-old Beck Bethard, who got second place in the district’s spelling bee. Janina Ojeiduma, form Seven Lakes Junior High, was the district’s alternate.

“It was tough but I studied a lot. I felt it was possible for me to win,” Keerthana said of the Katy ISD spelling bee.

Sitting in the library at his school, Beck said he was surprised when he was officially named the runner up.

“I was 100 percent certain I would not win,” he said. “There are a lot of really good spellers,” in Katy ISD.

The students competing in the Houston Public Media Spelling Bee would have all won their individual school and then school district competitions. The top two spellers will earn an all-expense paid trip to the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee in May to be held in the nation’s capital.

“The hard work, determination and countless hours spent by these Katy ISD students to prepare for such competition is a clear demonstration of their passion to excel in whatever they set their minds to,” said Lisa Wells, the district’s Instructional Officer for Curriculum and Instruction. She said district officials were confident “they will represent Katy ISD well.”

The winning word for Keerthana in the Katy ISD competition was “drupaceous” - a word not recognized by many computer spell check programs. It refers to a fruit such as a peach with a fleshy outer portion and a hard seed pod or stone in the middle. The word was securely locked away in her brain because of her studies.

“It had a weird definition that I never really understood but I knew the spelling,” she said.

Keerthana uses an online program designed for spelling bees to help her prepare. In addition to the spelling, it will provide her with other factors such as the definition. By her estimates, Keerthana has the memorized the correct spelling of about 35,000 words. She devotes about 15 hours per week to studying for future spelling competitions. She also competes in other intellectual competitions, plays badminton, chess and the piano and has been learning Indian classical dancing for several years.

When she has free times, Keerthana likes to read - especially anything Harry Potter related. She enjoys studying the Latin roots of some of the spells created by J.K. Rowling. But spelling bees are a major part of her life right now.

“If I know the word, I’m completely confident. If i don’t know the word, I get a little nerous,” Keerthana said. “I like learning the language patterns of different languages. I like seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together.”

Maybe he’s unlikely to become a football team quarterback but Beck said competing in spelling bees also gives him a serious adrenaline rush.

“It’s just coursing through you but you have to sit in the chair and be quiet,” he said. “You’re just so excited to spell some words.”

While Keerthana uses technology to prepare her for competitive spelling, Beck stands by the tried-and-true method of word lists as he prepares. He eats dinner, takes a shower then gets into bed. Then his mom comes in and studying begins.

“She gives me a word and I spell it. Then we just keep on going,” Beck said. “I just go over every single word and then we go over it again. it’s pretty simple.”

Like his Katy ISD competitor, Beck also is a voracious reader.

“He started reading when he was 2. He just reads like crazy,” said his mother, Angela Beathard.

Keerthana and Beck both realize they are getting close to being too old to compete in competitive spelling bees. It’s not something they will be able to continue as a high school student.

Vinod Krishnan said he was proud of his daughter for all the hard work she has put into a passion that could abruptly end with a single incorrect spelling.

“She puts in the work knowing very well that journey could end at any given point in time,” he said. “All she thinks about is, ‘Did I give it the best I could have?’ and she does.”

mike.glenn@chron.com