LYNN — The champion of the 32nd Annual Daily Item Regional Spelling Bee is in it to win it once again.
Ashrita Gandhari, a fifth grader at Franklin Elementary School in North Andover, took home spelling bee gold last year and she is not going to stop until she does it again. The young spelling connoisseur has spent the last five years studying the dictionary for at least two hours a day.
“Last year, all I could think about was Washington D.C. because I’ve wanted to go all my life and when they gave me the prizes, the dictionary was very heavy,” said the 2017 winner. “I remember when I was little I would watch the Spelling Bee on television and I’d write down all the words and learn them because I wanted to be one of them up there.”
As last year’s spelling bee champ, the fifth-grader won a chance to compete in D.C. She also brought home a Merriam-Webster dictionary that weighs almost the same as her head.
“My favorite part is the competition,” she said. “I like going up there and competing and I like having that anticipating feeling of what my word is going to be, what word is next, and will I get it right or not.”
The fifth-grader’s parents work with her on a day-to-day basis, for hours at a time working on word origins and studying flashcards. Her father, Bharat Gandhari, and her mother, Sirisha Bhumi, work as a team to keep their daughter in constant mental shape.
“It comes to her naturally at this point but we still have to study a lot,” said Bhumi, who has been the spelling bee queen’s main coach for the past five years. “She has pretty good knowledge about roots and etymology but the challenging part is when the words do not follow any rules, patterns or unknown origins because those are the troublesome areas.”
Even if the words come to her naturally, the young scholar says the nerves still get to her sometimes. She may have been one of 40 finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year, but the waiting game of finding out which word to spell is never without its challenges.
“I like everything about the bee but there the unknown words, like the Irish Gaelic words, that have no patterns and no rules and we see a lot of those in the bees,” she said. “I usually get nervous when waiting in the line with the speller in front of you and especially when they go out of lists.”
The North Andover resident, whose favorite word is the famously challenging “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” enjoys other school subjects. The fifth-grader competed in the Franklin Elementary School’s Math Olympiad twice.
As of right now, she’ll always enjoy the complex origins of different words, but her aspiration is to become an exobiologist, which studies life beyond Earth’s atmosphere. She can’t wait to study the origins of extraterrestrial life on other planets.
Her parents and little sister are proud of all the accomplishments Ashrita has made over the years. Mom and dad look forward to watching their oldest daughter continue to prosper as she gets older.
“I’m really happy for her, she’s been working hard for many years, since the first grade, and I am so proud of all the hard work she’s put in,” said Bharat Gandhari. “She got it and she deserved it.”
The 33rd Annual Daily Item Regional Spelling Bee will be held on Friday, March 23 at 6 p.m. at The Lynn City Hall Memorial Auditorium.