Cambridge's Ciara could be nation's top speller

17:00, Aug 18 2014
Ciara White
SPELLING SENSATION: St Peter’s School student Ciara White, 15, gets in some study, dictionary in hand, ahead of the 2014 New Zealand Spelling Bee final in Wellington.

Ciara White's way with words has put her in the running to win the 2014 New Zealand Spelling Bee final.

Ciara, 15, a Year 10 student at St Peter's School in Cambridge, won the Central North Island Spelling Bee semifinal in Hamilton last week and is now one of 16 finalists preparing for the national final - which carries a first prize of $5000 - in Wellington in October.

If she wins the final, as well as the prize money, she will also be named 2014 New Zealand Spelling Bee Champion and receive the national spelling bee trophy.

Ciara - in her second year at St Peter's School - claimed the semifinal title by correctly spelling the word "potassium", to see off strong challenges from runner- up Reilly Donner-Valois from Trident High School in Whakatane, and third placegetter, Hillcrest High School year 9 student Jackson Blewden. All three are now off to the national final.

Ciara has been competing in spelling bee competitions since she was in year 7, but this is the first time she has competed as a St Peter's School student and the first time she has reached the national final.

Surprisingly though, Ciara said English wasn't her favourite subject. "Funnily enough, it's actually science."


She reckons the hardest word she has in her vocabulary, which she tries to boost by regularly reading the dictionary, is "onomatopoeia".

"I really like knowing what words mean," she said.

Event manager Janet Lucas said it is hugely rewarding to see students' enthusiasm and skill, even after 10 years running the competition. "It is a huge accomplishment to get this far."

That's because in all, a total of 200 spellers from around the country advanced to regional spelling bees following a round of classroom spelling bees.

In that classroom spelling bee, Ciara scored 92 out of a possible 100 to qualify for last week's semifinal in Hamilton.

Ciara said she wasn't nervous ahead of the nationals, in fact she was excited about what was ahead. But some serious swotting - helped along by her mum Jo, dad Julian and sister Orla - would be the order of the day beforehand. "We have a list of words that we should know and when I'm practising I spell the words out to them. Any words that I get wrong I get them to spell out to me again and I learn them by rote until I know them."

Ciara said after winning her semifinal, her flights to Wellington for the national final have been paid for, as have flights for both Reilly and Jackson.

Her family will also join her to offer support in Wellington, Ciara said.

The 2014 New Zealand Spelling Bee final is in Wellington on Saturday, October 18.

Waikato Times