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June 2, 2000

H-O-M-E schooling spells a winner
By Vaishali Honawar
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

     Home-schooled students Thursday won the top three spots in the National Spelling Bee, one week after the first-place winner had placed second in the National Geography Bee.
     George Abraham Thampy, 12, correctly spelled "demarche" —which means a course of action or maneuver — to win in his third bid for the championship at the 73rd Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.
     George, who lives with his parents in a St. Louis suburb, tied for fourth place in the 1998 spelling contest and finished in a third-place tie last year.
     The Maryland Heights, Mo., seventh-grader won $10,000 for his efforts, just a week after winning a $15,000 scholarship for his second-place finish in the geography competition.
     Both contests were held in the District.
     George said home schooling had helped clinch the win for him because it gave him the flexibility to choose subjects in which he is interested. "Spelling is not a subject taught in schools," he said.
     Of the 248 participants in this year's spelling bee, 27 were home schoolers, up from 19 last year, and 178 were from public schools.
     The participants, most between 11 and 14, were asked to spell words they are hardly likely to encounter outside the bee, like "solivagant" (marked by solitary wandering), "seine" (a large net used to enclose fish), "morceau" (a short, literary or musical piece) and "escritoire" (a writing desk).
     George, who emerged as the spelling champion after 15 grueling rounds of competition, said he wants to study medicine eventually.
     He said he had a difficult moment in one of the earlier rounds when asked to spell "emmetropia," meaning perfect vision.
     "But I thought of God and it just popped into my head," he said, adding that he prayed often during the contest. "I told God before the contest that I'd do my best."
     He said he would share his $10,000 grand prize with his parents because they had tutored and supported him in his quest to win the spelling bee.
     His father, K. George Thampy, is a biochemist and physician, and his mother, Bina, works full time teaching her four sons and three daughters, are both immigrants from Kerala in southern India.
     They decided to home school all of their children after being shocked by crime in Houston, where they had lived at the time, Mrs. Thampy said. "My husband thought it was too dangerous to send them to school there," she said.
     She said George had been participating in the St. Louis spelling bee since he was 6. "He would go through the word lists put out by the bee officials in just a few hours," Mrs. Thampy said.
     In last week's geography bee, George lost to Felix Peng, 13, of Guilford, Conn., when he could only name one of the three largest sections of Denmark. Felix, a public-school student, named all three.
     Sean Conley, a home-schooled 12-year-old from Newark, Calif., won $5,000 for his second-place finish in the spelling contest. He said he might make a bid next year, but added that he "got tired of spelling."
     Sean misspelled "apotropaic," which means designed to avert evil.
     Allison Miller, 14 and home schooled in Niskayuna, N.Y., took home $3,000 for finishing in third place. She tripped over "venire," the word for drawing qualified people as jurors.
     Of the local students in the contest, Kevin Roberts of Hagerstown, Md., made it as far as the sixth round.
     Paige Kimble, the spelling bee's director, said home schoolers and children from public schools were increasingly participating in the contest and doing well.
     "It is breathtaking to watch their talent," she said.
     Home-school supporters celebrated the home-schooled children's performance at the bee as an example of what they can achieve.
     "This is outstanding confirmation of the academic excellence of home schooling," said Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "I can't wait until home schoolers are winning Oscars and the presidency."
     The first home-schooled winner of the national competition was Rebecca Sealfon of New York City in 1997.
     Contestants usually are sponsored by their local newspapers. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sponsored this year's winner.
     • Andrea Billups contributed to this report.



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