HORSHAM -- Jonathan Xi, a sixth grade student at Keith Valley Middle School, is the Grand Champion of the virtual 2021 Scripps Bucks/Mont Regional Spelling Bee. Fluent in both Chinese and English, he will move on to the virtual 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee this July. The finals feature 10-12 accomplished spellers and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
Xi’s family speaks Chinese at home and he grew up learning how to speak Chinese first and English second.
“I really appreciated how his teachers in elementary and middle school helped him with English,” said his mom, Hong Lin.
Xi says after he learned English, his parents bought him many English books and would read to him at night. He would also spend hours at the library reading books. “After my parents taught me how to read and write in both languages, I started reading harder books by myself.”
Before the regional spelling bee, Xi won at the sixth grade level and then the school level. At the time, he had no idea these were connected to the official Scripps Spelling Bee. Xi’s English Language Arts teacher Jennifer Page told him about the spelling contest held during PACE, twenty minutes where students can work on projects with any teachers.
“Thinking nothing of it, I came to her room at the time and assumed that it was just a random contest in school,” said Xi. “She gave us ten words, and whoever got the most words right, competed with the other winners from different days.”
Xi said he had a great experience at the Bucks/Mont Regional Spelling Bee. Due to the virtual format, the competition was set up more like a test rather than in the traditional format where students take turns spelling. All of the scores are taken into account at the end and the person with the highest score wins. Xi was doubtful he would win any awards because his parents considered his score of 43 out of 50 low.
“When my name was announced in first place, it took me a second to comprehend it,” said Xi.
To prepare for the National Spelling Bee, Xi said he will read a lot of books. “My ELA teacher recommended me a lot of books and I’ve started reading a lot more since the beginning of quarantine,” said Xi. “I have finished ‘1984’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and right now I’m reading ‘The Odyssey,’ and I plan to read ‘Animal Farm’ soon.”
Xi says he looks at spelling lists and writes down words until they are memorized. “I memorize roots, prefixes, suffixes and word cells,” he said.
As Xi looks forward to Nationals, he encourages everyone to read more books. “Find books that you enjoy and expand your vocabulary,” he said.