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Indian Youth Spell Their Way to the Nationals

June 2006
Indian Youth Spell Their Way to the Nationals

Annual Spelling Bee in Georgia

On May 6th and 7th, 176 Atlanta area Indian Americans students participated in the North South Foundation's Regional Contests at the Goizueta Business School, Emory University. Included in the contest were the Spelling Bee, Vocabulary Bee, Math Bee, Geography Bee, Essay Writing and Public Speaking. North South Foundation (NSF) was founded in 1989 as a non-profit, tax-exempt and voluntary organization that awards scholarships to exceptionally qualified but needy students in India entering colleges regardless of religion, gender, caste, creed or geographic origin. To date, the Foundation has awarded 2,000 scholarships for students in India. In addition, the Foundation organizes spelling bee and vocabulary contests for children of Indian origin living in USA.

This contest is an annual opportunity for students to compete against each other in order to increase their skills and confidence. Participants with high scores automatically go to the National Championships held by NSF. First, second and third place winners from the finals will receive scholarships ranging from $250 to $1000. For the past several years, Atlanta has sent a large contingency to the Nationals. It's not all about winning. Naman Gupta, Junior Spelling Bee first place winner, said, "I participate because I find it challenging and staying involved continues to improve my skills." Vineeta Gupta, Naman's mother added that the competition gives her son more confidence. Dr. Prateen Desai, a judge, agreed and said, "The students benefit simply by being here." The second place and third place winners in the Junior Spelling Bee were Sonia Gupta and Siri Chandana Choragudi. The first three places in the Senior Spelling Bee category went to Pranav Mahadevan, Akshaya Suresh and Pranay Udutha respectively. After winning the first place, Pranav Mahadevan stated, "By spelling I learn so many things - languages like Latin, Greek, French, German....and so on. You learn a lot of general knowledge. It gives me a lot of self-confidence to compete and teaches me to have a healthy attitude towards the contests.

The confidence may have a lot to do with the fact that the entire event had a very relaxed atmosphere. The students were not competitive at all, but rather friendly. Even the parents were congratulating all the participants and not simply their own children. There were plenty of opportunities to have words repeated, pronounced slowly and defined. Devi Selvakumar, one of the main organizers whose son was a participant, has been involved for the past four years. She said that she found it very beneficial for her son and has a very high opinion of the competition in general. Devi also said that every year, the competition improves in one way or another. For the past ten years, various categories have been added slowly.

Another major improvement this year was the change in venue. Since 2001, when Vasanthi took over as the main organizer, the competition was held at the IACA (Indian American Cultural Association) in Smyrna. This facility had been described by parents, participants, and organizers alike as distracting, chaotic and inappropriate. Because there was only one auditorium, the temple had to be used. Shoes had to be removed before entering the temple, which made the event more religious than secular. Due to lack of space, events had to be held back to back, which made the entire weekend stressful for participants, parents and organizers alike.

This year Emory was chosen because a few of the organizers of the competition were Emory alumni. The only fee was the custodial fee, which was paid by sponsors India Bazaar and Blue Sky. The third sponsor, Bollywood Masala, provided lunch for all the judges, organizers and volunteers on Saturday. Vasanthi thanked Mr. Venugopal Muttangi for providing lunch on Sunday.

Vasanthi said that she had learned a lot about children in general and how wonderful parents can be. They came forward quickly when it concerned underprivileged children (there is no mention of underprivileged children elsewhere—please elaborate how this is so. Is the foundation doing work for underprivileged children?). She says, "I would like the kids to at least understand that when they grow up, they have to give up more time for unselfish causes?Education should be a priority for every child, not a choice."

--- Farah Ladha

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