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East Setauket teen plans Scripps National Spelling Bee strategy

Isabelle Scott, of Paul J. Gelinas Junior High

Isabelle Scott, of Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, reacts to winning the Hofstra Long Island Regional Spelling Bee. (Feb. 24, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Isabelle Scott plans to use the same strategy that led her to win the Long Island regional spelling bee at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this week.

At the Hofstra Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee in February, Scott, 14, of East Setauket, stood on stage with her eyes closed to visualize a word, then scribbled it in her right palm with an imaginary writing stylus before spelling the word aloud. She beat out 98 other students.

"It seemed to have worked the last time," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Often asking for the etymology or the definition or use of the word in a sentence will [also] greatly improve your chances of spelling it correctly."

Scott, an eighth-grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, is representing Long Island as one of the 281 spellers competing from the United States, Canada, Europe, Jamaica, Japan and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The championship finals will be broadcast live from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.

"I am excited because I understand that it's an accomplishment and it's thrilling, of course," Scott said. "But I'm also nervous because it's something I've never done before."

To prepare for the national bee, Scott studied prefixes, suffixes and words' languages of origin, and practiced spelling about two hours each day -- both at home with her mother, Dr. Allison McLarty, and during her lunch period with her eighth grade honors English teacher, Joanna Cadolino.

"It's just a lot of words from various languages" to remember, said Cadolino, who flew to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night to cheer Scott on. "I've learned words that I've never heard before."

Acanthopterygian -- belonging or pertaining to the Acanthopterygii, the group of spiny-finned fishes including the bass and perch -- was among the examples of challenging words that the pair isolated on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, she said. Scott also used the bee's own study guide, which featured more than 1,500 words.

"We're very, very proud of her," said McLarty, a surgeon at Stony Brook University Hospital whose colleagues are rooting for Scott. "She wants to do well for herself, but she also wants to do well for Long Island."

About 75 of Scott's friends, classmates and staff plan to watch the competition on TV, Cadolino said.

"I have some parents that will email me and I can keep them posted of how she's doing through each round so that can get back to the students in my classroom," she said. "The entire Three Village school district is so proud of her."

Scott says she doesn't have any particular lucky charms to rub or power meals to eat before hopefully hitting the stage. "I pray with my family," she said. "I just remind myself that I'm not necessarily here to compete, I'm just here to do well, so that takes that pressure off."

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