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2019 National Spelling Bee: Lincoln student heads to Washington to represent El Paso

Penny Moore

(LINCOLN MIDDLE SCHOOL -- May 23, 2019) — El Paso Regional Bee champ Penny Moore makes sense out of the most difficult words.

Her uncanny ability to memorize words, coupled with her advanced vocabulary and a penchant for picking up hints from each word’s part of speech and language of origin earned the Lincoln seventh-grader a trip to the 2019 Scripps Nationals Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this weekend.  The bee runs May 26-31.

“I've been studying the Round Two study guide and writing down all the words and their definitions so they're always in my memory,” she said. “I’ve also been studying Latin roots and the roots of other languages so that instead of completely memorizing everything, I'm also learning more about language. That way I have a better chance of spelling correctly a word I don't know.”

Beginning Monday, Penny will be competing with 565 spellers from all 50 states and foreign countries such as the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

She and the other spellers will start with the preliminary test round and then advance to Round 2 on Tuesday. Penny is Speller No. 501 and will compete in Group 5.

Days before heading to nation’s capital, Penny is unfazed by the prestigious competition she faces next week as she vies for up to a $50,000 cash prize.

“I'm not stressed about it because I'm honestly just happy to be there and I'll be happy for whoever wins. There are lots of kids who study a lot like me and read a lot like me,” she said. “I'll still do my best and I do still want to win.  I think it would be really great if I did win because I could donate to charity.”

Penny hopes to become the fifth El Paso-area speller to win the national bee since the contest was organized 75 years ago. She has been grooming herself for this chance at the national spotlight.

Well before winning the 2019 El Paso Regional Spelling Bee in March, the seventh-grader had an affinity for spelling.

“When I was little, I would look at a bottle of medicine and think, ‘oh wow, it's weird how cough is spelled with a g-h at the end,’” she said. “And then when I started kindergarten, I was pretty good at spelling and I didn't really have trouble on any spelling tests. I always got 100s. I realized that spelling was something that I was strong at.”

Penny’s first school spelling bee competition as a fourth-grader taught her a valuable lesson that she still uses today: ask for a definition when unsure.

“The pronouncer said the word ‘plaza’ and I thought he said ‘plasma,’ so I got the word wrong,” she said, still a bit disappointed. “I spelled the wrong word right.”

The following year, she conquered White Elementary School’s spelling bee with the word ‘centuries’ and has since continued to study and learn words, definitions and origins in her quest to be a top speller. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do when she grows up – lawyer, engineer, or music career seem to pique her interest most. Regardless, she hopes her spelling prowess will give her an edge with whatever career she chooses.

“I could possibly even become a teacher because if I have ease at spelling words and I enjoy doing it,” she said. “Then that could be something I spread to other people.”

Story by Reneé de Santos
Photo by Leonel Monroy