Herberger Academy student heads to National Spelling Bee

Sumaita Mulk

Sumaita Mulk won’t just be sightseeing when she travels to Washington, D.C., later this month. She’ll be calling on her sprachgefühl (speller’s intuition – and, yes, she knows how to spell it) when she competes in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, May 29-31.

Mulk, 12, is a student at the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy, an initiative of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She qualified for the national competition by winning the Arizona Educational Foundation’s statewide spelling bee and will be one of 278 spellers competing for the national crown, which carries a $30,000 cash award and other prizes.

While she confesses to a certain amount of nervousness, Mulk says she’s excited about the prospect of competing.

“The thought of all that money gets me motivated," she says. "But I think my parents are actually even more excited than I am.”

Mulk, a Goodyear resident, says the cliché about hard work paying off is true regarding her spelling success.

“I think I’ve always been a relatively good speller, but most of my spelling ‘talent’ comes from studying for at least an hour every day. I do have some natural speller’s intuition, but it’s been honed quite a bit from studying.”

The Herberger Academy, located on ASU’s West campus, is completing its inaugural academic year and has attracted gifted students from across metropolitan Phoenix. The academy is Arizona’s first university-based school specifically designed to meet the unique educational, social and emotional needs of gifted young adolescents.

“Our curriculum breaks down barriers between subject areas to make learning more meaningful for students,” says Kimberly Lansdowne, executive director of the Herberger Academy. “We also have more flexibility than a traditional school in terms of enabling students to spend additional time pursuing specific interests they are passionate about.”

“I like how the teachers provide plenty of time to work on homework and spelling," Mulk says. "This helps me a lot because every bit of studying helps. Attending the Herberger Academy has helped my spelling prowess.”

That prowess led Mulk to win the Arizona competition by successfully spelling “oubliette,” a word of French origin that means a dungeon with an opening only at the top. She has a variety of tools up her sleeve to spell whatever word may come her way during the competition.

“It depends on the word,” she explains. “Sometimes I KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), other times I use my knowledge of stem and the word’s language of origin, and still other times I just guess and rely on my sprachgefühl.”

Mulk’s bottom-line advice for others who want to follow in her footsteps: “Study, study, study.”

Applications are now being accepted for gifted students interested in joining the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy when the next cohort begins its studies in August. More information is available at http://herbergeracademy.asu.edu/.