- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

When the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee kicks off this morning in Washington, D.C., nearly 11 percent of the contestants will be children who are home schooled, setting a record for their participation in the 73rd annual contest.

The students' increasing success at such well-known academic competitions including a win last year in the National Geography Bee is building a powerful case that students who are taught by their parents are thriving academically.

"Home-school students tend to be disproportionately represented in national contests where academic skills are being tested," according to Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit advocacy group in Purcellville, Va.

"The reason is simple: home-school parents emphasize traditional learning rather than feel-good, self-esteem methods that leave children puffed up but devoid of the knowledge that they need to sustain themselves in real life," said Mr. Farris, a father of 10 home-schooled children.

Nationwide, an estimated 1.7 million students are educated at home, with a growing number outperforming their traditionally educated counterparts on national tests. A 1998-99 study by the National Center for Home Education found that more and more colleges are accepting home-schooled students, who are more likely than public school or private Christian school graduates to hold positions of campus leadership.

At this year's spelling bee, 248 competitors, ages 9 to 15, will take the stage of the Independence Ballroom at Washington's Grand Hyatt hotel for the nerve-racking two-day competition, which ends with final rounds tomorrow afternoon. Most will attempt to spell tricky polysyllabic words that are rarely used in conversation or in writing a typical sentence.

The competitors represent every state except Vermont; U.S. territories including Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and such foreign countries as Jamaica and Mexico. According to the HSLDA, 27 will have practiced their words, not in a public, private or parochial school classroom, but at home, where their parents serve as educators.

If the past is any predictor, the home-schoolers will fare well. In 1997, Rebecca Sealfon of Brooklyn, N.Y., became the first home-schooled youngster to win the spelling bee, lasting 23 rounds and earning top honors by correctly spelling "euonym," which means an appropriate name for a person, place or thing.

"Home schooling gave me more time and flexibility to study spelling," Rebecca said after her win.

Missouri home-schooled student George Abraham Thampy, 11, came in third place in the 1999 spelling bee, one notch higher than 1998, when he came in fourth.

Just last year, David Beihl, a 13-year-old from Saluda, S.C., became the first home-schooled youth to win the National Geography Bee, correctly answering that La Nina is the condition characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean. He won a $25,000 scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to Australia. One of three children who are home schooled, David also competed in the 1999 national spelling bee.

Earlier this month, home-schooled students also earned second and third place honors in the 2000 geography bee and two others were finalists.

Home-schoolers are also excelling in other areas. Chris Mayernik, a 12-year-old home school student from Fairfax, Va., won the 1998 Lego Deep Sea Challenge build-a-thon. Later this year, Paul Griebenow, a teen from Tazewell, Va., who is a national champion in flying battery-powered 6-to-8-foot wingspan aircraft, will represent the United States in international competition in Greece.

ESPN will broadcast the final rounds of the spelling bee, starting at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The show will be re-aired at 7:30 tomorrow night on ESPN2.

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