Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Corbett Prep sixth-grader heads to Scripps spelling bee

Riju Datta will represent Tampa Bay at the Scripps National Spelling Bee next week.

Corbett Preparatory School

Riju Datta will represent Tampa Bay at the Scripps National Spelling Bee next week.

CARROLLWOOD — When Corbett Preparatory School headmaster Joyce Swarzman won her schoolwide spelling bee as a sixth-grader, she dreamed of going to the famed Scripps National Spelling Bee.

She never got there.

But years later, when teachers Kim Rostick and Vickie Johnson approached her with the idea of creating a schoolwide spelling bee, Swarzman saw her chance to get to the national bee.

She will see that chance materialize as sixth-grader Riju Datta, winner of the Corbett Prep bee for the past four years, represents the Tampa Bay area in the national competition, which begins Tuesday.

Rostick said having a student qualify for the national bee is a big deal at Corbett Prep, where preparing for the schoolwide bee starts early in the year with a pep rally and includes eight to 10 weeks of practice rounds in the classroom before the actual schoolwide bee of about 150 spellers.

"It has set a precedent," she said. "Other students can look at him and say, 'If he can do it, I can, too.' It starts with spelling your first words."

Riju said he spends about 12 hours a week practicing, and his teachers said his memory is phenomenal.

He even remembers the words he has spelled incorrectly each year. In third grade, it was "suite," because he got confused with the definition. In fourth grade, he got the "e" and "u" mixed up in "schadenfreude."

Riju's teachers say he is helped along by his mother, Jhumanath, who has attended each regional tournament with a laptop, typing lists of each word spelled and misspelled by each contestant, color-coded by round.

When practicing, Riju said he reads the words and studies their parts of speech, alternate pronunciations and language of origin. His favorite words have German and French roots.

"Sometimes German and French words are words that just sound fancy," he said. "Like gallimaufry. You could just say you have a lot of jumbled stuff, you wouldn't really need to say you have a gallimaufry."

Sometimes at competitions, Riju said, his palms get sweaty and his heart beats faster when he starts to spell. He said that could increase when he competes at the national level.

"Just knowing you're one of the best in the country is kind of nerve-racking," he said.

Riju's skills go beyond spelling. This year he placed in regional math competitions, a state geography bee and the state science fair, where he earned recognition for his project on Pick's theorem and dividing a polygon by its lattice points.

Allison Lester, a school coordinator for the spelling bee, said the competition will be streamed through the classrooms at Corbett. Riju's teachers have also talked about hosting a viewing party if he makes it to the finals, from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday.

That perked up Riju.

"Wait, isn't that really late, though?" he asked.

"It's worth it. You're worth it," Rostick told him.

Corbett Prep sixth-grader heads to Scripps spelling bee 05/22/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:25am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jameis Winston held his pro day at Florida State's indoor practice facility. His pro team will be getting one soon.
  2. Where to see Fourth of July fireworks across Tampa Bay

    Events

    Looking for Independence Day fireworks shows in the Tampa Bay area? There are plenty of options, including the massive shows in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey, as well as smaller shows across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Sarasota counties.

    Fireworks explode with color over the Nature Coast Freedom Festival in Hernando County. There will be a variety of fireworks displays across the Tampa Bay area for the Fourth of July in 2017. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2009)]
  3. PolitiFact takes on big health care question: Does GOP bill cut Medicaid?

    National

    Politics and math don't always get along, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway raised a common complaint about how people talk about the future of Medicaid spending under the Senate Republican health care bill.

    Alice Jacobs, 90, at Dogwood Village, a nonprofit county-owned nursing home in Orange, Va., on June 23. Medicaid, targeted by Republicans' health care bill, pays for most of the 1.4 million elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom do not know they are on it. (Khue Bui/The New York Times)
  4. Higher Social Security payouts help Florida post a big jump in personal income

    Personal Finance

    Personal income grew 1.3 percent in Florida in the first quarter of this year, a four-way tie among all states for second-fastest growth behind Idaho.

  5. Gov. Scott in Washington as health care debate intensifies

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday began a daylong series of meetings in Washington on health care, saying he wants to ensure Florida gets its share of Medicaid funding while praising parts of the Senate GOP’s Obamacare replacement.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at Creative Sign Designs in Tampa on June 13.