This year, the winning word was stromuhr, an instrument used to measure blood flow through an artery. Fifteen years ago, the correct spelling of xanthosis, which means a discoloration of degenerating tissues, brought home the prize. In 1956, it was a word most people are now familiar with — condominium.
Students at Central Middle School in Edgewater are busy familiarizing themselves with such words because it is one of 32 schools in Anne Arundel County enrolled in next year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held in the spring in Washington, D.C.
Central Middle sixth-grade language arts teacher Dan Scott, who is coordinating the school's efforts, said that the school is now conducting spelling bee training and programs in classrooms. Students throughout the country prepare for the contest with materials by Scripps and Merriam-Webster, and they advance to the national bee by winning local contests.
The contest officials ask schools to prepare students by showing the film "Akeelah and the Bee," which is based on the contest, and encouraging students to dress up in garments similar to those worn by contestants in the film.
"Schools register for it, and do their local school [talent searches] to find one person that they can send from each school to the county level," said Scott. "Then the county sends it up to the state level, then it goes to the national level. What's been happening now is that we're trying to get kids psyched up so that they're going to work hard and learn more vocabulary."
Scott said that the schools enjoy participating in the contest in part because it gives students a chance to broaden their vocabulary outside of normal classroom instruction.
"That's the upshot. Just by participating in it and enabling them to be higher thinkers … they're going to be learning more than they would normally be learning at sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grade level, just by doing their curriculum," Scott said.
The program is open to students who have not turned 16 or passed beyond eighth grade and who are officially enrolled in the Scripps Spelling Bee program. Scott said the program not only helps students pronounce certain words, but it also prepares them for intangibles, such as crowd size and standing on a stage with floodlights.
He said that usually students who participate in such events are already advanced in learning, "and they are taking high-level classes and are enthusiastic readers. All the kids that are interested in it now already read books by the week, are getting A's and B's in all of their classes, and have an extroverted personality."
Lois Lanier, chief development officer for Anne Arundel public schools, said that the system plans to broadcast the Scripps Spelling Bee live on AACPS-TV. She said that though she doesn't work with students directly on the bee, she has noticed how the challenge of competing in a national contest motivates them.
"What I find really interesting about it is that it's not just rote memory," said Lanier, who has attended the competition. "It's really using strategies to determine how the word is most logically spelled, and it's not always logical in English. It also gives them an exercise in public presence."