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Spelling her way to success

Local student wins a place at National Spelling Bee

Posted: March 29, 2009 12:28 a.m.
Updated: March 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Thirteen-year-old Paige Vasseur, an eighth-grader at Rio Norte Junior High School, is on her way to the National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, D.C.

One thing's for sure: Rio Norte Junior High School student Paige Vasseur knows how to spell "perseverance."

The 13-year-old Santa Clarita Valley girl is on her way to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on May 28.

"It blows my mind that I made it this far, and I'm so excited," said Vasseur, who won the Southern California Regionals and is one of two state finalists to represent California at her level in the national competition.

"When I would watch the spelling bee on TV, I thought I would never be able to study as hard as those kids," recalled Vasseur. "But here I am, because I knew I wanted it badly enough."

Vasseur set her sights to succeed in a spelling bee competition, but the goal was not met right away.

"The first time I was in a classroom spelling competition to qualify for the bee, I didn't even make it past the first round," said Vasseur, "but then I tried again the next year and the year after that and I kept getting better and better."

By fifth grade, Vasseur qualified for the Rio Norte Spelling Bee competition and by sixth grade, she won.

Last year, when she was in seventh grade, Vasseur made it to the Southern California Regional Competition and placed fourth.

"That was the moment I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this,'" Vasseur said. "I knew that I could only compete for one more year, so I really wanted to try my best," said Vasseur.

The regional competition was held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles March 14.

"There were so many good spellers there from a lot of different places," she said, "and some of the words we had to spell were really hard. I just knew I had to believe in myself."

After three hours in the competition and many challenging word rounds, two contestants were left standing.

Vasseur's winning word was "foraminate," which means "perforated."

"I saw the word in my head and applied the Latin I had studied with my mom," said Vasseur, explaining the process by which she figured out how to spell the word.

"I just remembered what I had studied as far as language wording - and went for it."

Vasseur studied the dictionary as well as Latin origins with her mother every day to prepare for the competition.

"It really helped me to study with my mom," said Vasseur, "because she told me I could do it and she was there for me."

Vasseur attends Rio Norte every day in the company of her large, unabridged version of Webster's Third Dictionary, the official dictionary used by the upcoming National Spelling Bee. She says she gets lots of support from family, friends and a proud school administration.

"We are all so proud of her," said Annalee Bretthauer, English department chairwoman at Rio Norte and this year's coordinator of the school's spelling bee.

"She is a great example of setting a goal and working hard to achieve it. It's very inspirational," said Bretthauer.

Rio Norte Assistant Principals Betti Sternberg and Rita Thomas continue to watch Vasseur shine.

"She has this confidence about herself that allows her to go for her goals," Thomas said, of the eighth-grader's success. "She has an inner strength of mind and character that will always be with her through anything she wants to do."

Sternberg added, "It's great to see the support she has from everyone here, especially her friends."

The "peanuts gallery," as Vasseur calls her group of supportive friends, cheered her on from the stands during the school spelling bee and will no doubt be watching Vasseur on the televised competition from Washington, D.C.

The Scripps Nationals will be televised on ESPN, with the final round on ABC May 28.

The national winner will receive $28,000 in cash and savings bonds and top-of-the-line reference resources for his or her home library.

When asked how she feels about going to the Nationals with her family, Vasseur said she couldn't be more thrilled and knows what it takes to achieve a dream.

"You have to really want something and then apply yourself," said Vasseur, "If you want it enough, you can achieve anything."

For more information on the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and to test your spelling acumen, visit


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