Falls eighth-grader Heloise Cheruvalath couldn’t help but smile when the judge read the word “mellifluous” in the final round of the Badger State Spelling Bee Saturday at Edgewood College in Madison.
Cheruvalath smiled because “mellifluous” was a word she had studied and knew quite well. Once it was out of the judge’s mouth, she knew she was going to represent Menomonee Falls and the state of Wisconsin at the Scripps National Spelling Bee this May in Washington, D.C.
“It’s really exciting. I’ve never been to nationals before. It’s not so much winning or losing, but the feeling of participating in something this big,” Cheruvalath said.
Cheruvalath will join 277 students from around the country from May 27 to June 1 for the competition. Before you set your DVRs for the ESPN broadcast of the spelling bee, Cheruvalath will have to make it past the preliminary rounds to the top 50. Then she'll be on the network broadcast. Cheruvalath said she’s not too nervous about the lights and the cameras, but she does want to represent the community well.
“I’m representing not only our state but our school and community as whole,” Cheruvalath said. “I really just want to do well.”
For the next month, Cheruvalath will be studying roots, origins, prefixes, and suffixes of a list with over 1,500 words for the national competition. The English language dictionary she received from National Spelling Bee representatives should help. At the competition, any word in that massive dictionary is fair game.
In an era where calculators and spell checking software are installed on most of our technological devices, it's helped Cheruvalath see the value of studying for the spelling competition.
“I think spelling bees are very valuable because people aren’t using their intellect as much anymore with calculators and spell check,” Cheruvalath said.
She added that the competition and level of preparation needed for a spelling bee definitely qualify it as a sport.
“The spelling is actually pretty intense. It’s just like any other sport. It’s very competitive and takes a lot of preparation like any other sport. Some people prepare for years,” Cheruvalath said.
Nowadays, Cheruvalath is somewhat of a celebrity in the halls of . However, she hasn’t had a “normal” school day for an eighth-grader for quite some time. Cheruvalath spends her mornings at where she is enrolled in a freshman honors English class, and a junior-level honors math course. Next year she’ll be taking accelerated science classes as well.
Cheruvalath plans to attend University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a career as a doctor. She’s hoping to attend Oxford University for her post-graduate education.
“Since early elementary she has demonstrated high academic achievement and the district has tried to accommodate her needs over the years,” said North Principal Lynn Grimm. “She’s very well rounded.”
One doesn’t have to look far to see where Cheruvalath gained her knack for intellect. Her father and mother are both scientists for their company, Scan-Pac Manufacturing.
“I’d like thank all (Heloise’s) Valley View and North educators for all their help and inspiration,” said Mary Thundathil, Cheruvalath’s mother.
Cheruvalath was born Chennai, which is one of the largest cities in India. Her family moved to Los Angeles in 2002, and eventually to Menomonee Falls as they pursued work. Cheruvalath will join extended family down in Washington, D.C. when she arrives for the competition.
However, Cheruvalath isn’t the only shining star currently at North. Her classmate Devon Gagnon qualified for the state Geography Bee competition, which will be held March 30. Claire Rhode also took first-place at the Optimist Club’s regional essay competition. All three students will be honored for their achievements at the 7 p.m. School Board meeting April 23.
“She has big aspirations, and I think she’ll meet them. We’re very proud of her here at North,” Grimm said.