Under the pressure of bright lights and a sea of people intensely watching her at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Alecia McCulley held her cool as she was asked to spell
“Could I have the definition, please?” she asked. The word refers to the order of insects that includes the caddisfly.
That’s when Alecia’s mom, Erica Spencer, knew her daughter was going to get it right.
The sixth-grader at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta School in Ferguson made her debut appearance at the spelling bee held last month in Oxon Hill, Md. Alecia will attend seventh grade at the new All Saints Academy at St. Norbert in Florissant this fall.
Alecia made it through two preliminary rounds, but didn’t have enough points on a separate spelling test to advance to the finals May 31. In the end, she ranked 42nd among other spellers who advanced through the second and third rounds, but didn’t reach the finals.
“The test tripped me up a little bit,” she acknowledged. However, reaching the national competition has given her ideas about preparations for next year; she plans to study word origins, especially Greek and Latin.
“I am working on Spanish right now, and that helped me with a lot of words with Spanish origin,” she said. “I’m going through Latin, too, and I recognize some of the roots and suffixes from that, too.”
With an early love for reading and spelling, Alecia won her first school spelling bee in second grade at St. Angela Merici in Florissant. She’s won her school spelling bee every year since.
Alecia advanced to the national bee through a new wild-card program called RSVBee, in which spellers who didn’t win a regional bee or didn’t have a sponsor get a chance to compete in the national finals. The program allows up to 225 additional applicants, expanding the number of spellers from fewer than 300 at previous bees to 519 this year. Alecia was among four students from St. Louis who made it to the national bee, and 15 from Missouri.
“We continue to explore ways to evolve our program to create even more opportunities for children,” Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, stated. “Participation in the national finals is a life-changing experience for children. RSVBee levels the playing field for children participating in some of the larger or more competitive local bee programs. It also provides a straight-to-the-national finals pathway for children who have previously been declared champions of their local bee programs.”
Alecia cited the support of several people: Kim Carlton, physical education and computer teacher at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta; school secretary June Stephenson; and grandparents James and Christine Porter, who frequently quizzed her. Alecia also honed her skills at websites such as Quizlet and Learn That Word.
“I am very proud of her,” mom Erica Spencer said. “She’s very intelligent and using her God-given abilities. She’s very determined to go next year.”