Isabelle Scott says there's always a way to figure out how to spell a word. For the Gelinas 8th grader, it's this: she visualizes the word and uses one hand to "write" the letters on her other hand before she comes to a conclusion on its spelling.
It's the technique she used to spell "abatement" – the word that made her the winner of the Regional Scripps Spelling Bee at Hofstra University on Sunday.
Now Isabelle, 13, said she plans to broaden her spelling skills and techniques as she heads to a national spelling bee.
"I wasn’t expecting [to win] but I’m glad it happened," she said. "Now I get to represent Long Island and I want to do it in the best way possible."
On her way to the regional spelling bee, Isabelle first took an in-class test and then won the school spelling bee. In preparing for the regional spelling bee, she said she studied word lists and played computer games to drill her spelling skills. But now there won't be word lists – they've simply given her a dictionary.
"Now it could be any word," Isabelle said. "You have to learn spelling skills that you can apply to any word you may be given. It’s going to be challenging, but there’s always a way to figure things out."
Her mother, Allison McLarty, with whom she studied on an almost daily basis, said their family is very proud of her.
"She's very disciplined," McLarty said. "Once she’d done her homework, she would grab me and make me study with her most of the nights of the week. ... She worked really hard for a period of several months trying to be ready for this."
Her work paid off: she won a $100 savings bond, a dictionary, an Encyclopaedia Britannica subscription and an all-expense-paid trip to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. in May.
Isabelle, who is also a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Patriot Press, and a proud dancer at Amy Tyler's dance school in Port Jefferson, is also an accomplished writer.
"She is a phenomenal writer, with a very mature writing style. She is a wizard when it comes to language," said Joanna Cadolino, her honors English teacher and the chairperson of the English Department at Gelinas.
McLarty said Isabelle has found ways to build spelling practice into her regular school days, such as with friends helping her practice at lunchtime.
"She went into this as a fun thing because her school did it," McLarty said. "She’s happy that she won but I think she takes this responsibility very seriously. She’s going to prepare very hard to make sure she doesn’t let down the people on Long Island, and that just exemplifies the kind of girl she is."