To Nationals and Beyond, Part 2

Last month, we heard from National Spelling Bee hopeful Xharia W. on how she prepared herself and rose through the ranks. Today, we will take a different angle and hear from her parents on how they support their children to be the best they can be.  I am sure that we can apply these principals to our homes, personal lives, and our classrooms!


Question:  Do you have a family approach to helping Xharia prepare?

Answer:  Lots of encouragement! We encouraged Xharia’s learning experience very early on through homeschooling and we provided both our kids with early exposure and easy access to books. This grew into a passion for reading for both.  In Xharia’s case, she enjoys reading books from a variety of authors and genres and has done so since she was a young child, so she’s been exposed to many different words as a result. Naturally, as she read, she learned to spell. As Xharia has excelled in spelling bee competitions, we have continued to support her love for reading. We also spend time together practicing spelling and have impromptu spelling bees of our own. Xharia is very self-motivated so we encourage that determination by making study plans and reminding her to stick with it. 


Questions: Looking back, what are some lessons learned? How are you applying them to your parenting today?

Answer:  We really believe there’s no limit to what our kids can accomplish if they try. They are both incredibly smart but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to work hard and that’s one of the things we are currently cultivating in them: a healthy work ethic.

 Sometimes things won’t be easy, but when you have a healthy work ethic you develop the mindset to push through challenges rather than succumbing to them. Effort is important! 

 Another thing we do is practice diligence with them. We remind, we repeat, we check-in, we encourage. They get tired of us but we know how easy it is to get distracted or “forget” things at their age. So we do our best to support their success but we don’t do the work for them. We give them the tools they need and provide them with guidance but we believe it’s important for them to put in the time and make the effort, so we step back and give them space to do just that. For us, it’s not about perfection or winning every time, just about them being their best, giving 100% to whatever they are doing.

We have learned to listen and create a safe place to vent or express negative feelings while emphasizing the importance of having a positive mindset. We also give them positive affirmations they can say to themselves. Many of the affirmations we turn to are found in the Bible, like Psalm 139:14 when Xharia feels down on herself or her performance in a particular area. When she is anxious, it is Philippians 4:6-8. Positive affirmations serve to remind us that we’re okay regardless of the outcome which is the fuel we often need to keep going whether we are 14 or 40.


Question: What advice would you give to other parents?

Answer:  Look for cues to things your children are passionate about and support their development in those areas. Find unique ways to encourage learning outside of the classroom and in less formal ways. Make learning a part of your routine.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your kids to do a bit more or try a little harder. 

Establish and facilitate what is important, but don’t sacrifice relationships in the process. It’s important for kids to know that our love for them is not dependent on their success or failure.

Make time for face time, spend time together and do things together. Whether it’s a movie or a board game, endeavor to be present regardless of how busy life may be.

Put their potential above your fears. For example, I may think something my child wants to do is challenging but rather than coming right out and saying that, I temper my skepticism and lead with affirmation, encouragement and support. I bite my tongue because at the end of the day, what looks difficult to me, might be no match for them.

Travel! It doesn’t need to be an overseas trip but find ways to explore and expose them to new places and new faces. Take a long drive. Try a different cuisine. Listen to a different genre of music. In short – explore.


Question: As a parent, what value do you see in the Spelling Bee experience?

Answer: Her “Bee” experiences have served as a catalyst for her to develop greater initiative, hone her study habits and become more proactive as she drives to do her best and acquire that competitive edge. This drive has also caused her to develop a number of skills she may not have acquired at this stage of life.

She’s also learned the importance of hard work, determination and not giving up. There have been some disappointments along the way but she has not let that stop her. She has developed resilience and strength that has allowed her to push beyond the setbacks and continue to do something that she loves while being challenged. 


Question: What impact do you think participating in the Bee can have on a child’s future?

Answer:  The benefits of participating in the Bee are multidimensional. With every round the child advances to they become more confident and more driven to succeed. They want to take on bigger challenges, learn more difficult words, they push themselves to do a bit more than they did before and they certainly become a bit more fearless. 

Participating in this competition encourages kids to step out of their comfort zones and see themselves in places and spaces that may be uncommon to them. It brings them into contact with people they may not otherwise have met, which may open doors for them academically or otherwise. It also requires them to use their voices to be heard and encourages them to ask questions. This is incredibly important for all students, but even more so for our girls. Another bonus is that it sends the message that it’s okay to do something none of your friends are doing: swimming, rugby, photography, robotics, spelling, whatever it is, you can step out on your own and be the first in– whatever.

I do wonder whether Xharia would have been inspired to participate in Spelling Bees if the lead character in “Akeelah and The Bee” did not look like her. I believe that kids need to know that they don’t have to align to certain stereotypes or be confined to a certain idea of what they should do based on their race or gender or someone else’s opinion.

Akeelah was a fictional character but her story inspired Xharia’s dream to be the National Spelling Bee champion when the reality looked different. So, when you inquire about impact, I think of that little girl or little boy who might read this article and hear Xharia’s story and think to themselves, if she can do it, so can I. The impact then, is monumental.

                       Remember to join us at the 15th Annual TLI Virtual Conference at , June 15-16, where we will continue to elevate student voice!  The event is FREE, but registration is required.



Yolanda Wheelington

Yolanda Wheelington

Phoenix, Arizona

Yolanda has taught for the past 7 years in the Phoenix Elementary School District. Her passion for developing and supporting the human potential is evident in the cross-curricular work done her classroom. She is a member of the Association Montessori International and is a RODEL Scholar. Yolanda earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s in Education (Special Education) from Arizona State University, and a diploma in Lower Elementary Education for ages 6-12 from the Montessori Institute of North Texas.

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