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A Spelling Success

Wearing the No. 1 around her neck, Harper Park Middle School eighth-grader Connie Xie closed the seventh round of the 24th Annual Loudoun County Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word dermatophyte. Moments later, Connie became the overall winner by correctly spelling mordancy.

In a true completion of the circle, Connie also opened the March 23 spelling bee, the first contestant of Loudoun County elementary- and middle-school students to spell a word. She correctly spelled destination.

TATIANA LOZANO, a sixth-grader from J.L. Simpson Middle School, Christine Susan Alexander, a fifth-grader from F.H. Reid Elementary School, and Vanessa Maria Braganza, a sixth-grader from Blue Ridge Middle School, were the remaining three finalists. The female finalists were whittled down from 93 public, private and home-schooled fifth- through eighth-graders.

Connie, whose sister, Jennie, was also a contestant, said she did not know either of her winning words prior to spelling them. Her win came after months of studying and hard work.

"The girls read a lot," Xiaofen Zeng, Connie's mother, said. "They were always reading."

Connie studied mostly on her own, her father said.

"We did not do any preparation with them," Mingsheng Xie said. "I pushed for them to do some preparation with me, but they refused. She did it all on her own."

Throughout the competition, Connie seemed relaxed, smiling almost constantly, talking with her fellow contestants between rounds and calmly spelling her words with a steady voice.

Connie's manner — and win — was no surprise to her English teacher, Shelah Novak.

"She deserves all the credit," Novak said. "She did it all on her own. She is such a conscientious worker and she knows how to focus."

While Connie was quiet when receiving her awards and accolades, the pride could be seen easily on her father's face and in his smile.

"It was great to see her up there having fun," he said. "I could not have spelled those words."

Connie will go on to represent Loudoun County at the 79th Annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 31 and June 1.