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Spelling out success

Durham Middle School student to head to national competition

Sonika+Harish+writes+down+new+vocabulary+words+while+studying.%0ACourtesy+of+Esha+Harish
Sonika Harish writes down new vocabulary words while studying.
Courtesy of Esha Harish

Sonika Harish writes down new vocabulary words while studying. Courtesy of Esha Harish

Sonika Harish writes down new vocabulary words while studying. Courtesy of Esha Harish

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A faint muffled voice runs through the microphone as all eyes in the crowded room focus on a small dark haired girl, who makes her way toward the center of the stage. She takes in a gasp of air and prepares herself as she eagerly waits for her word.

“Skookum,” the announcer said. “An adjective which means brave, strong or impressive.”

“Skookum!”

S-

K-

O-

O-

K-

U-

M-

The crowd applauds as a bell signifies her correct spelling.

“I entered my school’s spelling bee in the sixth grade,” eighth grader Sonika Harish said. “That’s when I really got interested in the competition. And I won both the school and feeder spelling bee in sixth and seventh grade.”

Despite being only 13 years old, Sonika is actively making history as she moves forward in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She was selected to attend the national spelling bee in Oxon Hill, Maryland after applying to be a wild card contestant in the national competition.

“This year, if you won the school spelling bee at your school, out of the total number of applicants, they take a small fraction to the national spelling bee to participate and they are also invited to sit during the live spelling bee,” older sister Esha Harish said. “They did this because some people would get to a higher level, but they go through few competitions.”

Although already an avid competitor and determined student, Sonika remains anxious before competitions. But she soothes her nerves by studying and reminding herself of the opportunity she was given.

“I’m really excited to go to nationals,” Sonika said. “I never thought that I would go to that level, but I’m also really nervous to compete against a lot of good spellers.”

Her middle school career is not over yet and Sonika has already built a resume of successful runs in numerous competitions. She won the Geography Bee at Durham Middle School both sixth and seventh grade, medaled in academic UIL events and won best actress in the theater one act play.

“My least favorite part is how nervous I get before I compete,” Sonika said. “[But] I’ve been practicing since I decided to enter the competition [because] it’s really fun and I wanted to see if I could compete in the high level competition.”

Sonika has followed in her older sister’s footsteps, while breaking the mold and making a name for herself. She admires her sister’s achievements and looks up to her and her parents for guidance.

“She is very much like me,” Esha said. “Since she is the younger sister and I’m the older sister she tries to follow. Since I won my school’s spelling bees, she took it a step further and won the district. She is very determined and tries to do her best in everything she does.”

Besides a normal sibling rivalry and a five year age gap, Sonika and Esha are close and bond through their shared passions. They participate in similar extracurriculars and enjoy spending time with one another. But because both are busy students, Sonika relies on others to help her practice.

“My mom is her go-to person, when they aren’t studying for the spelling bee they are looking at other strategies,” Esha said. “And since my mom helped me with my spelling bees, she has had experience with it.”

The entirety of the competition is a family affair, while all family members might not be heavily involved in Sonika’s hectic schedule, they all encourage her to succeed. Sonika’s mother however, has taken on the role as both a motivator and personal coach for her daughter.

“One of the things Sonika loves to do is challenge herself by learning new words and I fully support her interests,” mom Aruna Kannan said. “I let her teach me when she is learning new words and I quiz her on vocab from time to time, which keeps studying fun.”

Leading up to the competition, Sonika has weaved in time in her daily regimen to focus solely on herself and her readiness. She uses various methods of studying as each one prepares her for different aspects of spelling. Whether it is practicing reciting by sight or verbal testing of her knowledge, she tries to excel in every situation.

“I practice in a lot of ways, [but] my biggest challenge is balancing both my academics and extracurriculars with the spelling bee preparation,” Sonika said. “Before school, I typically go to soccer practice or go to tutoring, and then after school I go to theater rehearsal for our musical and when I come home I practice and study spelling.”

Sonika’s family plans to remain by her side and keep her foundation stable throughout her future. They are prepared to assist her with any of her endeavors and desire a future where she is happily following her dreams.

“[As] the older sister looking down on her, I find myself very proud of her because I know she is going to do great things,” Esha said. “She has goals and aspirations and a good mindset to achieve them.”

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