- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

Even as a child who had just learned to speak, Kevin Roberts would spell his name rather than say it, his mother recalls.

This early love for spelling helped the home-schooled teen-ager from Hagerstown, Md., make it as a finalist in the 73rd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in the District of Columbia yesterday.

Altogether, 108 students of the total 248 advanced to the finals.

Kevin, 14, one of a record 27 home-schoolers participating this year, breezed through the first three rounds of competition, spelling words like "levanter," "quinine," and "franchisee."

The number of home-schooled students in last year's spelling competition was 19, said Paige Kimble, the bee's director.

"Trophallaxis" tripped up 10-year-old Lauren Nadler, the District's only participating student. The Murch Elementary School student was eliminated in the first round.

One other Maryland student, of four from the state, made it to the finals. Jenny Kreiger, 13, of Cumberland and a student at Calvary Christian Academy, is a bee finalist for the second time.

Three of the eight Virginia participants advance to the finals. They include Kristin Hawkins, 12, of Sterling Middle School in Sterling, Kristin J. Vamenta, 11, of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Rocky Mount, and Edgar "Ned" Bayliss Twigg, 13, of Johnson Williams Middle School in Berryville.

Mrs. Kimble said participation in the bee by both home-schoolers and public school students is rising, while there is a decline in the number of private and parochial school students in the competition.

Proponents also say home-schooled children are doing better in national competitions like the spelling bee because of the tailored curricula they follow.

"The high participation in the spelling bee is a really good example of how well home-schoolers are doing academically," said Elizabeth Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Home Educators' Association.

Kevin, who wants to be a professional juggler when he grows up, said being schooled at home has helped him focus on subjects he likes, such as spelling.

Marina Brown, a home-schooled student from Corpus Christi, Texas, said she loves the individual attention she gets from her mother, who teaches her.

"In a big classroom I would be just one of 30 students," she said.

Explaining why she is home-schooled, Marina, 14, said her father is a jewelry maker, and she travels around the country eight to nine months a year with her parents.

She adds with a laugh that because her mother wasn't very good at spelling, it made Marina work harder at it.

Dawn Patrick McLean from Bend, Ore., who was at the bee with her son, Tucker, 14, said she had been scared when she first started home schooling her son two years ago.

"I had no idea where I was going," she said.

"But now I am happy he's doing so well," she said of her son's presence at the bee.

Both Marine and Tucker advanced to the finals.

Kevin's mother, Sandi Roberts, said she and husband Craig have home schooled all five of their children because they wanted them to "teach themselves … figure out what they want to learn about."

"I am around more as a guide than a teacher," she said.

In Kevin's case, Mrs. Roberts said, he had shown an interest in language and spelling for as long as she could remember.

"I always wanted to be in the spelling bee," said Kevin, an eighth-grader, who is competing for the first time this year.

Kevin said he does not study for a fixed number of hours every day and did not really prepare for the competition, except for reviewing material recommended by the bee's organizers, like the 2000 Paideia, a 3,500-word study booklet, and the Sponsor Bee Guides.

"I knew how to spell the second word, but with the other two I was just guessing," he said.

Asked if he is confident of winning the championship this year, he said with a laugh: "No way that's a bit too far for me."

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