No words as Saarth takes junior Spelling Bee title

Spelling isn’t quite as easy as ABC as the state’s best spellers found when they duelled it out in Sydney today.

Image: Saarth Deo from Wentworthville Public School took out the Premier's Spelling Bee Junior Final.

Saarth Deo refused to be psyched out and maintained his mystique to win the NSW Premier’s Spelling Bee Junior Final today.

Along with turquoise, these were just some of the words Saarth, from Wentworthville Public School, conquered to be one of the final two students still standing after 11 rounds.

When Isaac Hood, from Jesmond Public School, stumbled on moccasin, Saarth knew he just had to nail his word and the title was his.

“I heard the announcer say, ‘accredit’ and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got this’,” the delighted Year 4 student said afterwards.

He admitted to being very nervous last night ahead of the finals and was “very surprised to win”.

After receiving his trophy, Saarth ran up into the crowd where his ecstatic parents and grandparents hugged him.

Parents Sanket and Neha Deo, whose first language is Marathi, congratulated all the competitors and said they were stunned by Saarth’s win and didn’t know what to say.

Saarth, who came to Australia from Mumbai as a toddler, credited his spelling skills in part to reading subtitles on television.

“We weren’t doing it for Saarth,” Mrs Deo said. “When we first came here we found the Australian accent hard so would have the subtitles on all the time.”

Wentworthville Public School Year 4 teacher Mike Matheson said it was the first time the school had won the Spelling Bee and it was “an incredible achievement for a school from western Sydney”.

In the Senior finals Wilson Han, a Year 6 student at St Ives North Public School, seized the trophy when he confidently and correctly spelt askance, pipping out Vishnu Visweswaran from John Palmer Public who slipped up on quandary.

Wilson, whose proud parents Cathy and Zhaojun noted that his talent was definitely not genetic, said he was very happy but did not “think I’m that good at spelling”.

“I got quite lucky, but I also studied hard,” he said.

For many of the students, just getting to the final was a highlight.

Belle Vong, from Merimbula Public School, was in the junior final and at the morning tea afterwards declared, “the watermelon alone was worth the trip”.

For Rafael Marsh, a 10-year-old from Condobolin Public School, the Senior event proved a little overwhelming after his family’s epic journey to make the final.

After making it through the first few rounds, Rafael retired from the Senior final.

Living on the banks of the Lachlan River, his journey included driving through metre-high floodwaters and through the Lachlan Valley Way on roads closed to all but four-wheel drives. In Parkes, they then faced a four-hour delay for their 6am flight, finally taking off at 10.30am today.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was impressed by the spelling prowess of the finalists, some as young as eight years old.

“To think these students only learnt to read a few years ago and are now spelling words as tricky as ‘mystique’ and ‘quandary’ is just phenomenal,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Not only do I congratulate today’s winners on being crowned the best spellers in NSW, I also congratulate every single one of the 60 students who participated in this year’s challenge."

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said she was proud to be part of this year’s finals, not just as the Education Minister, but also as the parent of one of the finalists.

“I’ve seen through having my daughter participate in today’s final that making it this far in the competition is no easy feat, and all our finalists should be proud of their achievements,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The Spelling Bee has been around for 18 years and it just goes from strength to strength, year after year.

“It’s a great indication of how much value we place on literacy education in NSW public schools, and why we continue to rank first in Australia for spelling in years 3, 5 and 7.”

ABC Afternoons presenter Josh Szeps was the announcer for the Junior final while ABC News reader Toni Matthews did the honours in the Senior finals.

The 60 students who competed from around the state in the finals finished in the top 0.05% of all competition entrants, with this year’s challenge attracting 167,000 students from more than 820 NSW public schools.

Now in its 19th year, the Premier’s Spelling Bee was introduced in 2004 as a fun way for primary school students to engage in spelling. The program includes activities to encourage all students to improve their vocabulary and spelling and to promote literacy skills in combination with the English K-6 Syllabus.

NSW students consistently achieve top results in spelling in NAPLAN (the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy). Annually NSW ranks first in Australia in spelling across all year groups (Years 3, 5, 7 and 9).

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