Simola Nayak has a very meticulous approach for spelling a word during a spelling bee: first she asks for the definition of the word then the language of origin, part of speech, and silently spells the word on her hand.
Nayak is an eighth grade student at Henderson Middle School and Principal Terese Allen said it was because of her methodical approach Nayak has won the DeKalb County Spelling Bee two years in a row.
“She’s not just going to take something for granted and spell it, she wants to know everything,” Allen said.
The first time Allen met Nayak was the student’s first day in sixth grade. Allen said the two had a conversation and she was stunned at Nayak’s high level of vocabulary.
“It was like I was speaking to an adult,” Allen said.
Nayak said during spelling bee season, she practices with word lists from previous bees her mom has prepared for her. During the off season she reads books such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
“My mom quizzes me every night when I get home from school during spelling bee season,” Nayak said.
Last year, Nayak made it to the state spelling bee and finished in second place. The word she struck out on was “glaciarium,” a word for a skating rink with a floor of mechanically frozen ice.
“That experience was a really teachable moment because initially I was thinking I was going to do a lot better than I [did],” Nayak said.
Nayak is also on the reading bowl team that won the DeKalb County Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl competition this year and came in third at district competition. She also plays clarinet in the honor band. However, she said, she prefers the spelling bee because of the adrenaline rush it gives her.
“You never know what word you’re going to get. Here’s the poetic way to put it: A spelling bee is like an adrenaline rush where you know for a fact your face doesn’t flush…for the most part,” Nayak said with a chuckle.
The words Nayak focuses on when she studies are longer words. She said in most cases, spellers don’t necessarily strike out because they don’t know how to spell the word but because they have a hard time keeping pace with the length of the word. She also studies words that sound the same but have numerous spellings.
“Like ‘cat’ is sometimes spelled C-A-T, but there’s also something else spelled K-H-A-T, and there’s also X-A-T,” Nayak said.
Although she still has to make it through regional competition, Nayak said she’s hopeful she’ll make it to state this year but wants to take things one day, or spelling bee, at a time.
For children interested in participating in the spelling bee, Nayak said the most important thing to do is read to pick up on new words.
“Not only will reading increase spelling bee participation, it will also increase the literacy rate,” Nayak said.
When she grows up, Nayak said she has no idea what she wants to do.
“I’m kind of fickle-minded on that matter,” Nayak said. “But I have a thirst for knowledge. My parents even say that I was born with a thirst for knowledge.”