To Nationals and Beyond!

Back in April, before COVID put the breaks on all things normal, I had the opportunity to interview the dynamic bundle of intellect and inspiration that is 14-year old Xharia W. Xharia, an 8th grader at Shaw Montessori in Phoenix, AZ, recently placed second in the 2019 Arizona Regional Spelling Bee. This win secured her a position to compete in the Arizona State Spelling Bee which has been postponed. For many Arizonans, the Bee is a big deal and it is tough to secure  a space on that stage. Let’s hear from Xharia as she shares her experience and insight.

Question: Xharia, how are you feeling about the Regionals?

Answer: Nervous. It took me a while to gear up for practice and my seating position played in my favor. I am nervous and excited because this is one step closer to Nationals, which will be more challenging.  I’ve already started studying 1-2 hours a day, in addition to homework and review in my free time.

Question: How did you become interested in the Spelling Bee?

Answer:  I’ve participated in school Bees since 1st grade. My inspiration was the movie Akeelah and the Bee (2006). I won my class Bee in 4th grade. In 6th grade, I won my class, came in 2nd in my school Bee, 2nd in our District, and 6th place in Regionals. It has been a constant process since 6th grade.

Question: How do you prepare?

Answer: I actually have a study routine. I read a lot. Reading increases word association because of the context of the story. Also, my regular homework includes studying Latin roots and words that you may not come across regularly.

My parents always instilled spelling and reading practice as a daily and normal routine. We did it often during car rides. My teachers have also helped me learn more efficient study methods.

Question: Can you share your reflections on the experience?

Answer: Yes! I wish I had gotten rid of procrastination early on. I could have gotten to this point sooner if I had been more on top of things.

Last year, I got a bit cocky. My attitude was like “I already did this” so I did not study as much. I ended up getting 3rd place in district and somewhere else in regional.

I got stronger after I nailed down my study method. I would get a list and write each word 20 times. This ensured I had it in my brain and knew the word in more than one way. I imagine I am writing the word on my hand when I am spelling it.  I also study the etymology of the word. Knowing the root and origin helps me know the language patterns.

Question: What are your goals and next steps?

Answer: My next big event will be starting high school. I am hoping this will look very well on my college applications. My aspiration is to attend Yale or another Ivy League on scholarship. I definitely plan to maintain academic excellence. I want to be a neurosurgeon like my role model, Ben Carson.  I would be thrilled to do my residency at Johns Hopkins.

Question: What advice do you have for up and coming Bee participants?

Answer: If I could advise anything, I would say:

  1. Don’t be afraid. Just do it.
  2. Study as much as you can, even when you do not feel like it. Push through it because there is a greater reward at the end. Making it to National is a reward in itself. Even if I don’t win, it will be an honor to be there.
  3. Push through the boringness of studying, even if you can’t play with your friends sometimes. It will be worth it.

Question: Can you share some fun facts about you?


  1. I am interested in learning Korean.
  2. I am a big BTS fan!!!
  3. I would like to do a gap year as an English tutor in Korea to learn the culture and language.

Question: Any special thanks that you would like to send out:

Answer: I would like to say thank you to my mom and dad for pushing me, even when I don’t want to. Thanks for drawing a firm line and pushing me to reach my goal. Thanks to my brother Ysrael for not getting in my way, and all of the hugs and congratulations when I did well and when I did not. Last but not least,  a big THANK YOU to my friend Opal for helping me study, testing me on words, giving me hints and tips on how to study, sacrificing her recess to stay in and help me study.

Thank you, Xharia, for sharing your time, heart, mind, and talents with us. We wish you well and we are confident that you will excel at whatever you put your mind to.

Like Xharia said, she did not get here on her own. She had lots of support from her parents, family, friends, and teachers. Make sure that you check my next blog when we will have a Q/A session with Xharia’s parents! We will discuss Xharia’s road to success from a parent’s perspective.

Lastly, the 15th annual Teacher Leadership Conference  (TLI) will move to a FREE virtual platform! Register yourself and your team at azk12 and check back for updates on how to participate as we focus on raising student voice.

TLI 2020: Same bat time, different bat channel


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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