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Taking On Challenging Words

Great Falls student excels in word competition.

Catharsis. Extol. Enigma. While words like those are not normally in the vocabulary of eighth-graders, Kilmer Middle School student Jarel Cohen of Great Falls has used those words just within the past two weeks. As a contestant in a national word competition, he needed to know not only how to spell those words but to understand how those words are used in a sentence.

After winning first place at the state level, Jarel placed 11th out of 55 in the Reader's Digest National Word Power Challenge, which took place last week in Orlando, Fla.

"I was kind of pleased, 11 out of 1.6 million," said Jarel, mentioning the number of students in grades four through eight who competed in classrooms and schools across the nation.

Jarel's win started at Kilmer, where he won the classroom and grade-level competitions. When he advanced to the state level, he hadn't prepared for the competition.

"We thought I'd do well, but we didn't think I was going to win," Jarel said.

But when he achieved first place at the state level, Jarel knew he had some preparation ahead of him. He and his parents studied vocabulary from SAT preparation books. His parents' friends would e-mail their favorite words to Jarel. On the way down to the national competition in Orlando, airplane staff announced over the loudspeakers to pass their favorite words to the family.

Although Jarel wasn't among the top 10 finalists at the national level, both he and his parents are impressed he got so far. The trip to Florida was a nice bonus for them as well, with all expenses paid.

"I've come back and found myself using a much broader vocabulary," Jarel said.

When Jarel isn't spelling, he can be found making Friday morning announcements on WKMS, Kilmer's television program. He is also student government vice president and a National Junior Honor Society member. He also made the all-stars teams for baseball and basketball.

Jarel will attend Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology next year and hopes to attend Stanford University, the Naval Academy or the University of Virginia as an engineering major before earning a law degree and possibly working in politics.

"Jarel was an outstanding representative for Virginia in the Reader's Digest Word Power Competition," said Sheila Clawson, Jarel's English teacher. She had also gone down to Orlando for the competition. "He was very close to competing in the final 10. It was a rigorous competition, and he certainly gave it his best. I was very proud of his performance."