Each spring, the WITF Central PA Spelling Bee invites 5th to 8th grade students from 10 surrounding counties to demonstrate their spelling knowledge as they attempt to make their way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Interested schools register with Scripps in the fall and then conduct their own qualifying Spelling Bee at their school. Winners from each of the participating schools compete in a 50 word written test and 50 word vocabulary test held at the WITF Public Media Center. No more than the top 35 spellers participate in the WITF Grand Championship Spelling Bee, an oral spell down which is then broadcast on WITF TV. The winner from that bee qualifies to compete nationally in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
For the sixth year in a row, WITF is gearing up to host the Central PA Spelling Bee. The bee consists of two parts, a written test and an oral competition. The written portion of the test was held at the WITF Public Media Center on Jan. 25.
During the test, qualifying fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were given 100 words to spell. Students who scored the highest on the written portion will now move on to compete in WITF's Grand Championship Spelling Bee on Feb. 28.
Not only will the qualifying spellers get to test their skills in front of an audience, but the bee will also be broadcast on WITF. While the lights and television cameras are enough to make anyone nervous, it will be good practice for the champion of the WITF Central PA Spelling Bee. That lucky winner will move on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., which will be broadcast live on ESPN.
For the past two years, Aparajita Rao was the last speller standing at the WITF Grand Championship Spelling Bee. As a result, she was able to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice.
"The first year no one really knows what to expect," Rao said. "Once you get there, for me, it was completely different. It was a larger scale, so much hype, so many things to do. It distracted you from the main reason you were there."
When Rao won again in 2014, she was ready for the nationals.
"I was really hoping to get another chance at Washington, D.C. Winning was a completely different experience the second time because I knew what I was getting into and I was ready for it."
In 2014, Rao tied for 13th place at the national bee.
This year, Rao is in ninth grade at Hershey High School and so she's no longer able to compete in the spelling bee. However, Rao has some advice for the competitors.
"Learn as much as you can about languages and what makes them unique," she said. "Language of origin is really one of the most important questions you can ask about a word."
The 2015 WITF Grand Championship Spelling Bee will air at 6 p.m. March 1, with encore presentations at 7 p.m. March 4 and 1 p.m. March 6.
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