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Lakewood Ranch Prep student qualifies for Scripps National Spelling Bee

Amara Chepuri is spelling her way to the top, one letter at a time.

Amara Chepuri, a fifth grader at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, hopes to make it to the quarterfinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Amara Chepuri, a fifth grader at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, hopes to make it to the quarterfinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
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When Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy announced its schoolwide spelling bee would take place in December, Amara Chepuri, a fifth grader, decided to give it a try. 

Her father, Ananth Chepuri, didn’t want her to participate. With Amara’s aspirations to become a professional tennis player, he wanted her focus to be solely on tennis. 

After finishing second in the schoolwide spelling bee last year, Amara wanted another shot at claiming the title of top speller in her school. 

“I’m glad she didn’t listen to me,” Ananth said. 

Chepuri is headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 26 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

It was through the schoolwide bee in December, the regional qualifier in January and the regional competition in February that Ananth and his wife, Meeta Chepuri, discovered their daughter’s hidden talent for spelling words. 

Amara said she has “somewhat of a photographic memory” that helps her remember many words. She’s also a detail-oriented person. 

When it comes to memorizing the words, Amara’s approach is simple: Break down each word into manageable pieces. 

Take “Makgadikgadi” (as in the Makgadikgadi salt pans) as an example. 

She started with “ma” then added “kgadi.” She repeated what she had so far. When she was comfortable, she added the last “kgadi.”

Amara Chepuri, a fifth grader at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, receives a golden bat after placing in the top three of the regional spelling bee, securing her spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Courtesy image

Amara loves learning long words. The more letters involved, the better. For example, oxyacetylene. It’s her ability to break the word down and memorize how to spell words that to her and her parents seem made up. 

After memorizing a large portion of the list, Amara will test herself. If she is able to complete a practice test successfully, she’ll move onto the next portion of the list. 

The process is repeated until she’s mastered the list. 

To prepare for the regional qualifier in January, Amara had to learn 4,000 words from a list Scripps provided as any of them could be on the exam. The regional qualifier would help Scripps narrow the field from more than 100 Tampa Bay Area children to 51. 

Ananth said needing to know 4,000 words in three weeks before the regional qualifier in January seemed impossible, but his daughter beat the odds. The regional qualifier consisted of a 50 multiple choice online test. 

Since deciding to participate in the schoolwide spelling bee, Amara has dedicated two hours per day studying words. She juggles her studies with her homework, three hours of tennis practice and spending time with friends and family. 

Out of 51 spellers at the regional Feb. 10 at Tropicana Field, Amara was among the top three, securing her spot in the national bee. 

Amara said she had come to the point where she had decided there was no point in being nervous because it wasn’t going to help her. 

“I just decided to stay calm and listen to the words,” she said. 

Still, as the rounds progressed at the regional bee, she experienced a constant back-and-forth between being anxious about what word she would get and happiness for spelling the word correctly. 

She secured her spot at nationals by spelling “deglaciation.”

Afterward, Amara said she was shocked to find out she was in the top three. All she could do was cover her face with her hands in disbelief. 

With the Tampa Bay Rays as the sponsor, Amara went home with a golden bat as a trophy.

Jessica Adams, the fifth grade team captain and English Language Arts teacher at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, said after seeing Amara place second in last year's spelling bee, she knew she had talent.

"I told her this year was going to be her year, and it has been," Adams said. 

Now comes preparation for the national spelling bee. 

Amara needs to learn how to spell and define 2,100 medium words on top of learning how to spell 750 difficult words. 

While many of her competitors will be focused on those words, spelling is not Amara's top priority.

She hopes to go to IMG Academy in the future to continue to pursue her love for tennis and advance her skills. 

But even while on the court, Amara said the words are running through her head. 

Between tennis and the bee, Amara also finds ways to decompress and shut her brain off. She loves drawing celebrities like her favorite musician, Taylor Swift. She listens to music, writes her own songs and plays piano. 

Meeta said Amara always has been a “creative athlete” with passions for the arts and athletics. She also always has been creative, making her own projector out of a magnifying glass and a shoe box at 7 years old. 

Adams said Amara is an "incredible student and artist" who excels in "all tasks she is given." Last school year, Adams nominated Amara for the gifted program at the school due to her academic and personal performance.

Knowing many of the spellers at the national bee dedicate at least 10 hours per day studying words and reading the dictionary, Amara’s expectations for advancement in the national bee aren’t high. Her goal is to make it to the quarterfinals. 

She’s excited to see how far she can make it, but Amara said it’s more the experience of participating in the bee that’s important to her. 

Meeta and Ananth said no matter how far Amara advances in the national bee, the knowledge she gains from learning thousands of words will help her in the future as she prepares for exams such as the SAT. 

“Win or lose, she wins because her vocabulary base has been broadened just going into middle school,” Ananth said. 

Although Amara is unsure whether she will participate in next year’s spelling bees, she is certain about one thing. 

She’s tired of people asking her how to spell words. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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