ACPS Student Bee’s Knees at Historic National Spelling Contest

Alexandria had its first participant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee this past week.

Matthew Maury Elementary School fourth grader Olivia Coleman participated in the 92nd annual contest, making it through to round 2.

Bee Week 2019 was one for the record books. Finalists battled it out in 20 nail-biting rounds broadcast live on ESPN Thursday evening. Unable to trip the final eight spellers, organizers announced an eight-way tie as they had run out of challenging words. Each winner went home with a $50,000 prize.

Five hundred sixty two spellers ranging from age 7-15 (grades 1-8) from all 50 states swarmed the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor in Maryland during the week.

Olivia Coleman at the National Spelling Bee

(Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Although Olivia didn’t make it to the finals, she survived the first round, spelling “histrionics” only to get stung in the second round with “vermilion.”

How does one prepare to spell every word in a dictionary? Olivia attributes her talent to her love for reading.

olivia coleman at national spelling bee

Olivia studies with some help from her dad, Brian Coleman.

I go to Portuguese school on Saturdays and after class, my daddy takes my sister and me to a bookstore and we always find new books to read. So reading is a good way to prepare,” Olivia said.   

But running across words like omphalopsychite and auftaktigkeit — words that appeared in the bee finals — really don’t appear in your everyday books. How did Olivia focus on those tough ones?

I used the study material provided and I used different websites and apps. I studied a lot by myself and with my daddy. I practiced until I got the words right,” Olivia said.

Spelling obscure words is hard enough, but spelling in front of crowd, in front of peers, judges and parents is a lot of pressure.

I was nervous about getting my word wrong but I was also excited because if I got my word right, I could get farther. When Dr. Bailly would say a word, I would try to spell in my head, too, to see if I could get it right,” she said.

Mom and dad, Cinitia and Brian Coleman, were bursting with pride but nervous while watching their daughter up on stage.

Olivia at the big event with some bee friends.

The competition was well run, they created a nice environment for the kids, but it was still stressful. Having your child competing at a national level for the first time, acknowledging she was nervous, along with the pressure, the
lights, the bell!” Cinitia said.

Maury spelling champion, Olivia Coleman.

To get to the National Spelling Bee was a long road. Olivia participated in Maury’s first spelling bee and won. She then moved on through to a city spelling bee, winning for all fourth graders and then went on to compete at regionals. Although she didn’t win, she was able to RSVBee and landed a spot in the National Spelling Bee.

I made some new friends from different places. It was a great experience for me.”

Olivia has dual citizenship with Brazil and speaks fluent Portuguese. Maybe knowing a second language at a young age has something to do with getting her knack for spelling. Some of the spellers have made second appearances at the annual competition, with two coming back for their fifth try. Maybe we will see Olivia up there again next year!

Congratulations on your making it to your first National Spelling Bee, Olivia! Well done!

Olivia gets a hug from her Aunt Cristina after the competition. (Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

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ACPS, Awards, Highlights 2018-19, Maury