Dylan Jackson, 12, and a sixth-grader at Nikiski North Star Elementary, recently returned from competing in 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and while he didn't win the overall competition, he gained a lot from it.
"It was an awesome learning experience for him," said his mother, Suzanne Jackson, about the event held in Washington, D.C., from May 26-28.
Dylan competed against 291 other youths from around the country, but was one of only two children selected to represent Alaska. He earned the trip to the capital after sweeping his class and school spelling bees, and taking first place in the state competition -- the Anchorage Daily News Spelling Bee held in Anchorage.
"The whole thing was really exciting, and just to make it that far is quite an accomplishment," Jackson's mother said.
After arriving and talking with fellow competitors and their parents, the Jacksons said their preparations weren't quite as rigorous as some of the others.
"We had a few months to study. We would pick a page from the dictionary and spend about an hour on it, and if he got something wrong we'd go over it again. But some of the people we met practiced for six to eight hours a day, and they had been studying for years," she said.
Jackson added that that many hours a day seemed like a little too much to put in, and while she would like to increase her son's study time for future competitions, she also wants to keep it fun for him.
"We'd like to get to where he is studying for two hours a day," she said.
They also learned from some of the other veteran competitors better methods for studying for the bee.
"We spoke with other parents about studying etymologies -- the root meanings of words. The girl who won didn't know the word she got, but was able to figure it out by asking questions about the root word, which they are allowed to do," Jackson said.
Dylan said another aspect of the national competition that took some getting used to was being in front of so many lights and cameras, since the event was broadcast on the ABC and ESPN television networks.
"I was nervous being on TV and knowing a lot of people would be watching," he said.
However, his mother said, while he may have felt butterflies on the inside, on the outside he looked calm, cool and collected.
"I think I was more nervous than he was," she said.
Dylan made it through rounds one and two, surviving some difficult words for a boy his age, including: civitas, vacillatory, onychorrhexis and quomodo, to name just a few.
However, in the third round, the word that took Dylan down was giusto, which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means "In just, correct, or suitable time."
"I left out the 'i,'" he said.
While he may not have known the word's spelling at the time, he said he won't soon forget it now.
The Jacksons said they had such a great overall experience with the spelling bee, they hope Dylan will be able to compete again in the future.
"He's got two more years of eligibility," Suzanne Jackson said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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