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Draper Journal

American Preparatory Academy student to compete at national spelling bee

Apr 29, 2019 08:10AM ● By Julie Slama

American Preparatory Academy fourth grader Surya Kapu is all smiles after winning Utah’s northern regional spelling bee March 23 and earning a berth for the national competition. (Photo courtesy of Surya Kapu)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Popinjay: A vain, talkative person; a parrot.

Although American Preparatory Academy fourth grader Surya Kapu correctly spelled “popinjay” to win Utah’s northern regional spelling bee March 23 and earn a berth for the national competition, he does not match the definition. 

The quiet, studious student from South Jordan, who in February won both his school and district competitions, will travel with his family to Washington, D.C. to compete May 26–31 in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee. It will be his first time in the nation’s capital.

“I remembered the word from studying it,” Surya said. “I was really excited. I didn’t know if I could really win, but I hoped I could. I like to spell. It’s fun to get to know new words.”

Surya studied for about four hours daily preparing for the bee, up from when he would just study the weeks preceding the competition as a second- and third-grade student when he won and tied for first, respectively, in his school bees. Rules stipulate that students must be in fourth grade or higher to advance to the regional level.

“I studied the list they gave, then my dad would pull up words from the dictionary and I’d learn those. I knew if I study now, I could win regionals and it also would make me smarter,” he said, adding that he has a career goal of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Science vocabulary, as well as words in some languages — German, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Spanish and Hawaiian — are easier for him to spell than others, he said. 

During the competitions, Surya said it can be scary on stage.

“There’s a tension. I’m waiting for my word and I don’t know if I’ll spell it right or wrong. The best part is being done. I’m not nervous then. I feel accomplished,” he said.

There was a tense moment in the spelling bee when Surya misspelled “alimentary” with five spellers remaining in the bee. Normally, it would mean a contestant — one of 201 — would be out of the regional competition. However, in that round — one of 16 in the regional competition — each of the five contestants remaining misspelled their word so they all continued in the competition.

His dad, Udaya, said the family was watching Surya from the audience.

“We were thinking, ‘he did great, top five; he had a great opportunity,’ but then we were excited it worked out he could keep competing, and actually won,” Udaya Kapu said. 

Now, his son already is learning more words from the dictionary in preparation for nationals. Surya makes sure he knows the origin and definition as well as the spelling.

“Surya can learn at least 200 words in two hours,” Kapu said. “My son is actually a good reader and gets lots of books from the library.”

One word he got to spell — “dryad” — he learned from reading a book by Percy Jackson, his favorite author. He also has learned Latin words from the Harry Potter series.

His dad is excited for the competition not only in May, but in the future.

“Nationals is the highest level,” he said. “People actually come from all over the world to compete. He is actually young enough that he actually may even be able to compete another year. ”

After all, just two weeks before nationals, Surya, Utah’s Northern Region candidate, will turn 10 years old.