Meet the NJ Kids Heading to the National Spelling Bee Next Week
READINGTON — This is the last year of eligibility for eighth-grader Danielle Serrao, so she wants to make the most out of her trip next week to Maryland to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Serrao is one of seven youngsters representing New Jersey in the competition. She secured her spot in March when she beat out dozens of students from four counties in the regional round. It had been her fourth time reaching that point, but this is her first time making it to the "Super Bowl of spelling," as her family puts it.
"I really just want to do my best and make my family proud," said Serrao, 13, of Readington Middle School in Hunterdon County.
The goal, she said, is to avoid silly mistakes, as well as the "bell of doom," which rings only when a word is spelled incorrectly. In the world of competitive spelling, one strike and you're out.
There's been plenty of studying over the last several weeks. Everything she needs to know can be found in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary, which features over 500,000 words.
"There's no way you can study all of them," she said. "I've been trying to study the roots and learn the intricacies of the languages so if I get a word I don't know, I'll still be able to break it down and spell it."
One word she should have no problem with is "viscount," which tripped her up during her first trip to the regional round. She missed the silent 's' and it's still engraved in her mind today.
Serrao will be accompanied on her weeklong trip by her mother, brother and father Dominic, who says his daughter is already a winner.
"We just want to encourage her to try and make the most of the experience and enjoy it because some of these moments never come back again," Dominic Serrao said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The competition between 285 spellers starts with a preliminary test on Tuesday, May 24, leading up to a two-part final round on May 26.
MEET THE NEW JERSEY SPELLERS
- Henry A. Banta, 13, Franklin Middle School in Somerset
- Vivek S. Kolli, 14, William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing
- Rimas Chacar-Palubinskas, 13, Ho-Ho-Kus Public School in Ho-Ho-Kus
- Nabil Ettayebi, 13, Miftaahul Uloom Academy in Union City
- Justin Kyle Malabanan, 14, Central Regional Middle School in Bayville
- Danielle Serrao, 13, Readington Middle School in Whitehouse Station
- Shruthika Padhy, 10, Bret Harte Elementary School in Cherry Hill