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05-08-06 On the way to Washington, D. C., one letter at a time

By Margie Wuebker

  MARIA STEIN -- How do you spell success?

Megan Schaefer, an eighth-grader at Marion Local Schools, uses two study tools as she prepares for her second trip to the national spelling bee. She displays the large dictionary national spellers use and the smaller Paideia, which prepares students for school, county and regional events.<br></br>

  Just ask Megan Schaefer, an eighth-grader at Marion Local Schools. She will be making her second appearance later this month at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

  Schaefer, the 14-year-old daughter of Dave and Cheryl Schaefer, shows little apprehension about the event, which is expected to draw more than 250 spellers from across the nation as well as some foreign countries.

  "I am looking forward to the experience," she says confidently. "Last time I was a sixth-grader and did not know what to expect."

  Schaefer, who lists language arts as her favorite subject, initially became involved in spelling bees back in the fourth grade. She finished as runner-up at the school event and earned the right to advance to the county level, where she finished sixth her first year competing.  She then won the school as well as the county event the following year. Her participation at the regional ended early when she mistakenly added an "e" to the word argument.

  "I will always remember that word," she says. "Maybe my concentration slipped for a second."

  She won the regional competition as a sixth-grader, by correctly spelling the word adrenaline, and advanced to the national level.

  Like other national contestants, she received a free trip and accomodations.

  A written test precedes the televised portion of the national competition. Nearly half the 256 spellers were cut in the process that year. Schaefer was among them, earning three points less than the 13 needed to advance.

  However, she watched the proceeding carefully vowing to return. She specifically remembers the boy who won that year declined to participate on organized tours in order to study, and numerous spellers were making third and fourth appearances. She also recalls another boy who became so rattled he fainted, then came to quickly, sat on a stool and spelled the word flawlessly.

  "I considered it a learning experience," says Schaefer, who wants to become a pediatrician someday. "I had an opportunity to meet other students and experience different cultures. A lot of the students are home-schooled instead of attending classes like I do."

  She had hoped to return as a seventh-grader, but ran afoul of the word augean and bowed out in third place. This year she vowed to work even harder knowing it would be the last year of eligibility.

  "I don't spend the entire year studying," she admits with a smile. "I get down to business as the time gets closer."

  Students at the lower levels of competition study with the aid of a booklet known as a Paideia. Those bound for Washington use the Webster's Third International Dictionary provided to all regional winners and a CD containing hundreds of the most frequently used words.

  "It gets easier every year," Schaefer says. "Dealing with all the media at the national is a new experience -- one that makes concentrating difficult."

  The contest has received more attention this year, possibly due to the release of the feature-length film "Akeelah and the Bee," and will be televised for the first time on prime time June 1.

  Schaefer has no desire to see the film, at least not before heading to Washington. There will be no good luck charms in her pocket, although she does pray to her grandmother, the late Shirley Schaefer, for help.

  "I am so grateful for the support of my parents, teachers, school administration and the other students," she says. "They make me feel like a winner."


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