WASHINGTON — Though Tuesday served as the first day of competition for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, it featured students hunched over computers rather than in a spotlight on stage.
The preliminary rounds consist of both computer testing and a live oral spelling competition, putting a 21st century spin on an age-old competition.
Five Triangle students, along with spellers from around the world, will face 48 initial questions, with only half counting toward their final score in the preliminary round.
This year is the first time contestants must know the meaning of the word alongside its spelling. The change is significant – in the past scores have been based only on spelling the given word.
Several of the North Carolina students find this might actually help them. Hunter Randolph, an eighth-grader at SanLee Middle School in Sanford, finds definitions come easier to him.
“The vocabulary kind of helps. I’ve always been more of a vocabulary person and less of a spelling (person),” he said. It is Hunter’s third trip to compete in the bee.
Ethan Wagner, an eighth-grader at St. Michael the Archangel School in Cary, homes in on the meaning of a word and where it came from.
“I look at the word, and then I try to make sense of the definition and the origin with the spelling,” he said, “because sometimes those go together a lot.”
The other Triangle participants are Brian Werden, a seventh-grader from Charles W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough, Alexander Schembra of Lillington-Shawtown Elementary in Lillington, and Jesse Stephenson of Southside Christian School in Clayton.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee announced the rule change in early April.
“It represents a deepening of the Bee’s commitment to its purpose,” Executive Director Page Kimble said in announcing the change.
That purpose, she said, is “to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.”
The live event takes place all day Wednesday, ending with the announcement of those who made it to the semifinals.