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Edna spelling champ prepares for nationals


May 29, 2010 at 12:29 a.m.

Pauline Negrete prepares for the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. by studying extensively and using a particular method where she rewrites the words five or more times. The kitchen table is her location of preference when studying for the spelling bee.

EDNA - Pauline Negrete is not worrying about her last days of school. She's got bigger things on her mind.

"Studying, studying and studying," Negrete said, describing her past few weeks.

Less than three months after winning the Regional Spelling Bee, the 11-year-old will face-off against 272 word whizzes from all over the country at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition in Washington, D.C. during the first week of June.

It's something that's been a huge source of pressure for the fifth-grader, and as the days draw closer, the studying becomes grueling.

The Negrete kitchen is like a spelling bee workshop. Rows of spelling books and dictionaries line a nearby bookshelf, heavy binders filled with words and a spiral notebook, filled with words and pictures of actors from the tween flick "New Moon," sit in Pauline's study corner by a window.

"I am competitive," she said. "I like to learn words that are weird but interesting."

Her strategy is to continue to study - up to three hours a day plus weekends - and stay calm.

"Usually, in the past years, I was nervous and I have a lot of butterflies, but I've gone through that a lot," she said.

Pauline has a team of supporters and a sponsor for whom she's hugely thankful. Her Edna Elementary School teachers pull her out of class to study a half hour every day and her parents also practice with her in the evenings.

"Since the very beginning, we knew that she had a good memory," said Negrete's father Pablo. "That's one of the main reasons we introduced her to spelling."

He remembers when Pauline memorized 25 words for her first spelling competition in first grade.

Words come naturally to Pauline in both Spanish and English, making her unique in the competition. She fluently speaks, reads, spells and writes both Spanish and English. Less than half of the competitors speak a language other than English.

Pauline's parents, both natives of Mexico, learned English as a second language but taught Pauline English as a child.

"I remember we bought some hardcover books and she started learning her basic words and little by little she was able to learn the whole thing," Pablo Negrete said.

Pablo Negrete pulls out a tattered children's book. The edges were chewed where Pauline, who was still teething when she read the book, destroyed the pages.

Her father pulled out another book written by the Brothers Grimm - in Spanish.

"Since she was a child we used to read her these stories and try to introduce her to the art of reading," her father said.

At times growing up bilingual was confusing, but Pauline used her language skills to help her mother improve English.

"Sometimes I wanted to speak Spanish and sometimes I would get confused and speak Spanish," Pauline said.

Pauline's parents both speak with Spanish accents and admit needing help pronouncing some of the words themselves, but they have faith their daughter will do well.

"This is going to be her first experience," Pablo said. "We know this is going to be tougher, there are kids that are more experienced, but we are very confident."

Like any good competitor Pauline has researched her competition. Many of the contestants have brothers and sisters who've won or are on a return trip to Washington, D.C.

"I'm like wow, their brothers and sisters have already won," she said. "That made me wonder."

The competition is the largest ever in the Spelling Bee's history. Competitors have a shot at winning a $30,000 cash prize from Scripps Howard, a $2,500 scholarship from Merriam-Webster and a multitude of other prizes.

But win or lose the ambitious competitor will keep her head up. Her plans post-Washington are simple.

"Relax probably," Pauline said. But the tween, an avid dancer and swimmer, won't rest for long.

"...but I still have swimming, so I still have to do things during the summer."

Pauline said she plans to continue hitting the books preparing for her next academic challenge - sixth grade.

"When I get there I want to be able to know already how to do it so I can understand already," she said.



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