, St. Louis' very own champion speller (and sponsored by the local daily) is in Washington, D.C., at the moment, competing against 292 of the nation's other top spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee
But though Valdez, Speller 155, successfully spelled
"pegasus" and "strathspey" in Rounds 2 and 3 of the competition, she did not advance to tomorrow's semifinals.
But in a way, Valdez's presence at the bee is a victory in itself: Four years ago, when she immigrated here from the Dominican Republic, Valdez couldn't speak, let alone spell, English.
Now fourteen and an eighth-grader at Ferguson Middle School, Valdez
took ESL classes but supplemented them by reading on her own, even if
she didn't understand everything, and watching American TV. In sixth
grade, she discovered she had an affinity for spelling and won the
school bee for the first time.
Valdez practices spelling by
memorizing Greek and Latin word roots. She often doesn't bother to
learn what some of the words mean, she told NPR's Michel Martin,
because that would take too long.
For more on Valdez, listen to Martin's NPR interview here
If you want to show Missouri pride in tomorrow's semifinals and finals, cheer for Brent Henderson
14, of Blue Springs. St. Louisan George Abraham Thampy won the bee in
2000 with "demarche" (a diplomatic or political maneuver).(Note: my computer spellchecker has decided
both of Valdez's words are mispellings. A pegasus, incidentally, is a mythical
winged horse and a strathspey is a Scottish dance that is like the
reel, but slower.)