Juneau seventh grader wins Alaska State Spelling Bee, will compete nationally this summer

Spelling bee champion, Ishita Khiani (right) poses with her trophy at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School on Thursday, April 29, 2021. Electra Gardinier (left) is a spelling bee proctor and teacher at DHMS.
Spelling bee champion, Ishita Khiani (right) poses with her trophy at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School on Thursday, April 29, 2021. Electra Gardinier (left) is a spelling bee proctor and teacher at DHMS. (Photo by Bridget Dowd/KTOO)

A 12-year-old Juneau student is the new Alaska State Spelling Bee champion and after the state bee was canceled last year, this was a much-needed win.

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School hosted its own spelling bee during the first week of March to determine who it would send to the statewide bee. This year, seventh grade student, Ishita Khiani spelled all 25 words correctly. Electra Gardinier is a teacher at DHMS. She’s also Ishita’s spelling bee proctor.

“It actually went on into another round and again she got all words correct so she remained the top speller,” Gardinier said.

Normally, the statewide bee would be held in person in Anchorage, but due to COVID-19, this year’s competition looked a little different.

“We’re doing it on an online system,” Ishita said. “We just have to listen to a recording of someone saying the word and there’s information like the origin and the definition, as well as a sentence that has the word in it and then we just have to write in a text box what we think the word’s spelling is.”

Ishita took on the challenge in late March and received an email saying she was again the top speller.

“We didn’t expect actually to win,” Ishita said. “I thought that maybe I just won the school spelling bee and I was so excited when I actually saw that I won the state.”

She will represent Alaska in three nationwide, online preliminary rounds this summer. If she makes the top 10, she’ll head to Orlando, Florida where the final competition will be broadcast on ESPN. But whether she gets there or not, Ishita wants to continue entering spelling bees.

“I really have a passion for language arts,” she said. “I really like writing essays and learning about new words to spell and adjectives to use. I feel like it’s really good to have an open vocabulary and it can make you sound more professional when you get older.”

But according to Gardinier, Ishita is already so far ahead and with the challenges this year brought on, Gardinier said it’s a nice change of pace.

“It was a real glimmer of hope for us to know that one of our students is progressing so far and has taken the challenges of online learning and pushed herself even further than we could possibly imagine,” Gardinier said.

Ishita plans to go over the provided study sheets and take online spelling tests to prepare for her next challenge.

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