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Cherry Hill fifth grader hopes to spell her way to the top at the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Successful. S-U-C-C-E-S-S-F-U-L. Successful.

That word is a good way to describe Bret Harte Elementary School fifth grader Shruthika Padhy’s spelling bee career.

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Shruthika has been a finalist and won multiple local, regional and national spelling bees since she began competing in kindergarten.

In May, Shruthika will compete against the best spellers across the United States when she will travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the first time. The competition will take place from May 24 to May 26.

Shruthika has built an impressive spelling bee resume over the past six years. She has participated in a variety of spelling and vocabulary competitions at the regional and national levels.

“I love competing in spelling bees because I just love learning all the new words,” Shruthika said.

Last year, Shruthika had success at a couple competitions. She was the Grand Champion at MastiSpell, a junior spelling bee for students grade four and under featuring more than 1,000 competitors. In addition, she finished as the second runner-up in the South Asian Spelling Bee New Jersey regional at Rutgers University.

However, Shruthika has never had a chance to go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Many areas of the United States have regional competitions typically sponsored by local media organizations. The winners of those regional competitions are sent to the national competition, with the sponsor helping to front travel and hotel accommodations and other fees.

However, Camden County does not have a regionally-sponsored competition. To remedy this problem, Scripps allowed Bret Harte Elementary School to sponsor its own champion. The top spellers faced off in a school-wide competition earlier this school year. Shruthika won and earned the right to go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“It was really exciting,” Shruthika said of the school competition. “The competition was really fierce. My friends put up a great fight. I was really excited and my teachers were very happy.”

One large hurdle facing the Harte champion was paying a $3,450 fee to attend the national spelling bee. In the regional competitions, the sponsor covers most of the fee.

For Shruthika to make the trip to nationals, donors were needed to help pay the fee. A local nonprofit, the National Indo Cooperative Enterprises, a marketing company, Metasense Inc. and tutoring companies C2Education, Kumon and Mathnasium, all donated money to pay for about half of the fee. Shruthika’s parents, Uma Padhy and Sujata Sabat, paid the remainder.

Shruthika did not become a spelling sensation overnight. She said becoming a solid competitor in spelling bees takes hours of studying. What helps motivate her is the support she gets from her parents and teachers.

“I practice with them,” Shruthika said. “I practice for about two hours a day.”

Shruthika said spelling bees go beyond just learning how to spell words. Understanding where words come from and their definitions is just as important.

Another key quality to becoming a good spelling bee competitor is being able to think clearly while on stage. Being on stage doesn’t make Shruthika nervous. She prides herself on taking her time and focusing on each word as it is presented to her.

Right now, Shruthika is doing extra preparation ahead of the national competition. She has been going through a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the official dictionary of the spelling bee.

“I highlight words in there and study them,” Shruthika said. “I also use flash cards.”

The national spelling bee stretches for multiple days and consists of multiple rounds with multiple elimination points. The competition will begin on Tuesday, May 24 with a written preliminary test. The next day, spellers will participate in a pair of oral spelling rounds. Spellers with the top scores advance to the semifinals. On the evening of May 25, semifinalists participate in another written test. They then advance to a pair of oral rounds on May 26. After the two semifinal oral rounds, between nine and 12 spellers advance to the championship round. The oral rounds of the semifinals are broadcast on ESPN2, and the championship round is broadcast on ESPN.

Shruthika realizes the competition will be fierce and she will be going against students from as high as eighth grade. However, she is excited just to participate and hopes this year’s trip will be just the first of many to come.

Originally published at cherryhillsun.com on April 21, 2016.


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