Out of the 11 million students across the country who participated in classroom, district and regional spelling bees throughout the school year, Owen Norwalk is one of 565 spellers headed to the pinnacle of all bees: The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.


On May 26, Owen, a seventh-grader at Center for Inquiry School 84, and his family will board a plane headed for the nation’s capital, where he will participate in preliminary tests and two rounds of onstage spelling.


Owen and the other students are vying for that coveted spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals, which will air at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 30 on ESPN.


To prepare, Owen studies about four to five hours each weekday and another eight hours on the weekends. The focus has been on root words, language rules, list words and their definitions.


“I spend the rest of my time working on words from the dictionary. I also do words with my family on the dictionary’s website,” he said.


Even his neighbors have helped by quizzing him.


“I have a lot of support,” said Owen. “It’s a huge focus until I get through the competition, but I do still make time for soccer and dog walking, my side job.”


Unlike most of the other students in the competition, Owen is a relative novice in the spelling bee world. His first time participating in a school-based bee was in fifth grade; this will be his first time at nationals.


While he’s excited, there’s also a twinge of nervous energy bubbling under the surface.


“I am excited for the bee because I have been working very hard to do well, but I am also nervous because the words they give are very challenging,” said Owen. “It’s really hard to study when you know any word in the dictionary is fair game.”


Regardless of the overall outcome, Owen has gained a new perspective about himself while on this journey to most-celebrated of spelling bees.


“I learned that I can accomplish challenges if I try my best and work very hard for it,” he said. “I didn’t suspect getting this far in the bee but once I knew I could do it, it was a new sense of motivation. Studying for the national bee has been really hard, but fun, too, because I’m learning a lot and pushing myself.”


The skills he’s gained while studying for the bee will also help him throughout the rest of his academic career.


“I think about words in new ways, like finding the origin or the etymology of a word. It has also helped me with defining words I don’t know or figuring out what a word could be in another language,” said Owen. “Words are everywhere, and I’m noticing them a lot more than I ever did before.”