This time last year Alisha Chakravarty was celebrating a stellar performance at the California State Elementary Spelling Bee, and now the Turlock Junior High School seventh grader is preparing to take on an even bigger feat: the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
In a live, nationally-televised event, Chakravarty will take on 518 other spellers May 29-31, turning one of her dreams into reality.
“It’s cool because this is a really big accomplishment for me,” Chakravarty said. “It’s long been my dream since second grade when I started doing spelling bees. I’ve always wanted to be in the national spelling bee.”
Chakravarty has never been the average student, showcasing a work ethic that would put most adults to shame. When the rest of her family is watching movies or just hanging out at home, she is writing an essay or doing extra studying.
At age seven, Chakravarty got a head start on her spelling bee success by sitting in the audience of the competitions, which were reserved for fourth through sixth graders, and participating anyway, pencil and paper in hand.
When she was finally old enough to participate in her school spelling bees at Julien Elementary, Chakravarty made it as far as the county-wide competition in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. In sixth grade she also advanced to the state level, where she finished as a Top 5 Finalist – a performance that helped her qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Spelling has always been her passion. Instead of talking to people when she was younger, she would spell.Alisha’s mom, Dr. Sunita Saini
Last year marked nine decades of one of the nation’s oldest and most iconic competitions, with students progressing from classroom to cafeteria, from auditorium to civic center, delighting friends and families with their expansive vocabulary. Chakravarty will travel to Maryland next week for the competition, where if she makes it past the first round, she will be featured on ESPN.
“Spelling has always been her passion,” Chakravarty’s mom Dr. Sunita Saini said. “Instead of talking to people when she was younger, she would spell. The hobby is time-consuming, but she practices in her spare time at recess, at lunch – it’s always been her choice to spell and just study.”
While she opted out of costly professional help offered by the Scripps program, Chakravarty has been had at work preparing on her own since she found out she had qualified for the national competition in April. She tries to memorize about 32 pages of the dictionary every night and has become an expert in prefixes, suffixes, root words and different languages of origin, like Latin and Greek, sometimes studying up to eight hours a day.
Though she has put in a lot of work on her own time, Chakravarty also credited her parents with helping her get this far in her spelling career. The time spent with her daughter preparing for the competition has been priceless, Saini said.
“I think some of the best mother-daughter bonding moments we’ve had with each other is when we’re practicing her spelling,” Saini said. “We do it on our playdates, on our spa dates, even while we’re lying down at night. We’re always laughing, making jokes while we do it.”
The upcoming competition will be the largest that Chakravarty has every participated in, but she’s not too nervous, she said.
“I’m looking forward to just going out there and spelling in front of everyone,” Chakravarty said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I know it’s going to be really fun.”
The Scripps National Spelling Bee preliminaries (rounds two and three) will take place on May 29 and May 30, respectively. Round two will last from 6:15 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. Pacific Time, and round three will be held from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific Time. Both rounds will be aired on ESPN 3.
The finals will be held May 31, with part one taking place from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pacific Time on EPSN 2 and part two taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time on ESPN.
For more information and for livestream links, visit www.spellingbee.com.