It was her mother’s salmon sauce that won this sixth-grader the Broward spelling bee

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After 12 tense rounds of words like Edelweiss, myocardiograph, ecclesiology, ornithofauna, and sillographer, Simone Kaplan won the 78th Annual Miami Herald Spelling Bee with a simple food term: aioli.

“I’ve seen it in my refrigerator,” Simone said. “My mom sometimes puts it on salmon.”

As her parents snapped photos, the 12-year-old held up her plaque and grinned.

She wasn’t grinning a few rounds earlier, however, when she flubbed one of her words: bitumen, a black, viscous mixture used for road surfacing and roofing. Simone had spelled it bitumin.

But the sixth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Davie got a rare second chance––the two other contestants had misspelled their words, carotid and enfleurage, rendering the round null.

“I missed a couple of heartbeats I’ll never get back,” said Mitch Kaplan, Simone’s father.

Simone was surprised by her misstep too. She has been studying since May 31 of last year, when she was eliminated from the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I lost on juridical,” Simone said. “J-U-R-I-D-I-C-A-L.”

After that, she started practicing for hours every day. Each week, she had a Skype session with Michelle Horton, a professional spelling coach based in Melbourne in Central Florida. Horton has tutored several spelling champions, including Ananya Vinay, the 12-year-old who placed first at nationals last year.

“We sold our piano and bought a whiteboard,” said Simone’s mother, Alana Kaplan. “She gave up all her hobbies to study spelling.”

Though her studying accelerated since last year, Simone has been involved in spelling bees since her school began offering them. “The thing is, I came to my school in kindergarten. In kindergarten, there was no spelling bee. First grade, no spelling bee,” Simone said. “Second grade was the year they finally picked up on the whole spelling bee thing –– when they got stung, as I like to say.”

Simone competed in classroom spelling bees, until fourth grade, when she made it to the school-wide bee. (“In fourth grade, I got there but I missed on miscellaneity ––M-I-S-C-E-L-L-A-N-E-I-T-Y.”)

Spelling has become central not only to Simone, but to her entire family. Her parents and grandparents came to the Broward bee, held at the Signature Grand in Davie, and some cousins flew in from England.

“We did a spelling bee Christmas card,” her mother said. “We shot it at the library. She’s wearing a spelling bee skirt and spelling bee shoes.”

Kierra Pulido, a soft-spoken 9-year-old who could never quite reach the microphone, came in second place. This was her first time competing in the Broward County bee, open to students in first through eighth grades.

Last week, Vasundara Govindarajan, an eighth grader at Frank C. Martin, won the Miami-Dade bee, the fourth consecutive time she has won. Both Vasundara and Simone will compete in the 91st National Spelling Bee, from May 29-31 in the Washington area.

Kierra was surprised she got so far in the competition. She only started studying seriously a few weeks ago after winning the school-wide bee at Dolphin Bay Elementary in Miramar.

“I just studied,” Kierra said. “I read words and spelled them.”

Kennedy Lee, a fourth-grader in the Christian homeschooling community H.E.A.R.T.S., came in third place.


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