When Mischa Abad heard the word, she was pretty confident.
She just wasn’t sure whether the word ended with “et” or “ette” based on the pronunciation. So she asked the origin. It was a French word.
Knowing that, the 11-year-old fifth-grader spelled “palmette” to win the Nevada State Spelling Bee, held March 17 at Bishop Gorman. That victory earned her the opportunity to represent the state in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the nation’s capital in May.
Mischa is believed to be the youngest Nevadan to compete in the national contest. While the National Spelling Bee has no age minimum, Nevada’s practice historically has been to limit the field to sixth- through eighth-graders, said Melinda Brown, coordinator of the state spelling bee.
But some states have sent younger competitors, and Brown said she fielded complaints and concerns from parents and some school officials before deciding this year to lower the eligibility requirement.
Mischa said she didn’t feel confident entering the state bee, even though she’d done well in grade-level competitions at her school, Somerset Academy of Las Vegas’ Stephanie Campus in Henderson.
“This was my first chance,” she said. “I didn’t think I would win, but it turns out I did.”
After 10 competitive rounds, which started with 42 students from districts across the state, only Mischa, St. Anne Catholic School seventh-grader Aarron Mangio and Sebastian Mehrzad, an eighth-grader who attends the same school as Mischa, were still standing. The three continued spelling words for six more rounds before Mischa earned the championship with her knowledge of French spelling.
Somerset Academy’s elementary school doesn’t assign homework, which left Mischa and her mom, Tricia Abad, plenty of time to practice spelling words before the county and state competitions. They plan to kick it up a notch before the national spelling bee.
Mischa uses a variety of resources, including two websites, to find words to study. One of her favorite French terms is “piece de resistance,” because it’s difficult to pronounce but relatively easy to spell, she said.
During competitions, Mischa said, she will often hold out her hand and pretend it’s a piece of paper if she’s struggling with a word. She said it’s also important to stay calm and move slowly, even when spelling a word she thinks she knows.
She’s also a voracious reader, which helps her learn new words. But despite her love of reading and writing, she wants to be an architect when she grows up. Oh, and a doctor.
“I also want to be a medical chemist. I want to find a cure for cancer,” she said.
But first, she’ll spend a week touring Washington, D.C., and competing against spellers from across the country.
She might have some competition down the road. Her 8-year-old brother, Alex, won the spelling bee at her school in first, second and third grades.
Practice makes perfect
With no homework, Mischa has plenty of time to practice and learn new words and phrases. Here are some of her favorites:
Hors de combat
Piece de resistance