Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – What do the words “coercive” and “paraphernalia” have in common? Only that they were the two words that decided the winner of the 2017 Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) Spelling Bee.

Margaret Paczkowski, an eighth grade student at Jack Jouett Middle School, was the winner, automatically qualifying for the Central Virginia Spelling Bee that will be held on Saturday, March 4, at Albemarle High School. The winner of that competition will represent the region in the National Spelling Bee.

Margaret is a voracious reader who relies on a strategy of understanding word origins to correctly spell words. She is so disciplined that when she comes across a highlighted word in her computer spell check, she doesn’t click for the right spelling. She works it out herself, using her strategy.

Despite her success in language arts, however, Margaret says she is even more fascinated by science and one day hopes to be a particle physicist.

Joining Margaret at the Regional Bee next month will be the next seven finishers in this year’s division-level competition. Walton’s Grace Caramanis, the 2015 division champion, was the runner-up. Also qualifying were Layla Bouber from Meriwether Lewis; Renae George of Sutherland; Divya Hande, also from Jouett; Ella Hughes of Crozet; Jonah Klaff-Layman from Murray Elementary; and Martin Muchai who represented Baker-Butler.

It took 14 rounds, some 400 words, and nearly two hours to complete the Bee, said Maureen Jensen, one of the Spelling Bee coordinators and a lead coach for the division.

Both she and her co-coordinator, Alison Dwier-Selden, agreed that, in addition to crowning a champion, the highlight of the evening was seeing the reactions of the 23 competitors as the Bee unfolded.

“The support that each student showed for one another truly was uplifting,” both said. “The students were high-fiving one another, concerned when a colleague struggled to spell a word correctly, and encouraged and celebrated with one another all evening,” Jensen and Dwier-Selden explained.

Thousands of ACPS students in grades 3-8 competed in their school-level Spelling Bee starting in January, leading to the final 23 last evening. “That certainly made every student who competed in the division round a champion in their own right,” Jensen said. “The Spelling Bee is a perfect example of the value of analytical thinking skills. Rote memorization does not work, either in a Spelling Bee or in life, as well as a student using their knowledge of language and the roots of words to find the right answer,” Dwier-Selden added.

Last Thursday night’s competition was live-streamed, and the video will be available on the school division’s YouTube channel.

The National Spelling Bee began in 1925, and of the 95 national winners since that time, two have been Virginia students. Daniel Greenblatt, from Leesburg, won the national title in 1984, and in 1992, Amanda Goad of Richmond also was a national champion. More than 11 million students across the country participate in the Bee each year. The 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held between May 28 and June 3 at National Harbor, Maryland.