It was a hard-fought battle, but seventh-grader Carolina Santiago emerged victorious, all thanks to being a good speller.
“It feels awesome,” she said Tuesday after the Hall County School District spelling bee, which she won after 11 rounds with the word “howitzer.”
“My sixth-grade former teacher ... she would stay after school with me and she would help me practice.”
It’s a goal the 12-year-old Carolina has been practicing to reach for years.
“In fifth grade, I was in the school (spelling bee) but I lost, and then last year I was here in the county one,” she recalled. “I was in the top 10, but I also lost.”
Carolina, from West Hall Middle, was one of 32 students from the district’s middle and elementary schools competing for a chance to go to the bee for District 3, which includes 18 systems.
Middle schools sent three students each, representing the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Elementary schools sent one student apiece.
Fourth-grader Evelyn Kakarlamudi of Chestnut Mountain Elementary was first runner-up, holding her own against Santiago through 11 rounds. She missed out on the word “bayou.”
“It feels good,” she said about ranking so highly in her first bee appearance. “My dad ... plays the words in the dictionary, and I try to spell them without looking at them. Then I look at them and repeat them.”
She looks forward to a repeat of her performance next year, when her younger brother will also have the chance to compete.
Both Evelyn and Carolina have a little more than a month to prepare for the March 1 district-level bee in Winder. The winner of that bee will move on to the state competition, with a chance to go on to the national level.
Carolina plans to go over the provided study lists and continue to read a lot.
“I like to read, and that’s how I’ve learned a lot of words,” she said. “Just practice. I’m nervous, but relieved that I won.”
Her mom, Debora Exposito, said Carolina has been studying for years to reach this goal.
“My English is very bad, I can’t help (her study),” Exposito said. “She has studied all the time. The school helps after school. She loves English and the pronunciation.”
Carolina’s devotion to studying the spelling of words has not gone unnoticed by her peers.
“When she won (the school-level bee), even all of her classmates were excited and said that they knew she would win, that she was the best person,” said her teacher Trena McCarthy, who added they plan to ramp up the studying for the district bee.
“She is confident,” McCarthy said. “It’s unusual to find a speller who wins ... who hasn’t spent many hours (on) studying and memorization.”