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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 17, 2011

Winner of Greater Capital Region Spelling Bee
Mateen Sharif, Farnsworth sixth-grader, doesn’t plan to lose in national bee

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Mateen Sharif, a sixth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School, out-spelled 99 other bright students last week to win the regional spelling bee held annually in Albany.

Sharif, 11, will compete in the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. during Memorial Day week.

“I don’t plan to lose,” Sharif said this week. His parents and brother will accompany him to the competition.

“We are very excited about the upcoming trip to Washington, and about the commitment to do the best he can,” said Sharif’s mother, Mary Derwesh.

Sharif was one of four middle-school students from Farnsworth who competed in the Albany bee. Bill Dong placed fourth in the regional competition. Elena Musteata and Anish Nayak also competed, finishing in the top 12, according to enrichment teacher and spelling coach Deborah Escobar.

“It was very exciting,” Escobar said. “The objective is the learning. The winning is sort of gravy on top when it happens.”

Escobar runs a spelling “boot camp” once a week for students through the enrichment program. “We prepare kids for competitions, like Math Counts, the spelling and geography bees, National History Day, and Future Cities,” Escobar said. “This is the second one we’ve had go in three years.”

In 2009, Luxi Peng, then a seventh-grader at Farnsworth, earned her trip to D.C. by placing first in the Greater Capital Region Spelling Bee, besting nearly 100 other students by spelling the word “geogenous” correctly.

This September, a dozen students joined the Farnsworth spelling boot camp, using flashcards for 1,500 words, and learning the phonetic spellings and pronunciations of each.

“They need to understand how it sounds,” Escobar said. “They all showed tremendous growth. They all started at different places. It was a good opportunity for learning.”

Sharif entered the school spelling bee without being part of the boot camp, but, after doing well at the school event, he joined Escobar and the other students.

“He’s always excelled at spelling,” Derwesh said. She did not want him to compete as a fifth-grader, but, this year, the motivation came from Sharif, himself.

“This was something he initiated. He came home and said he was in the spelling bee,” Derwesh said. 

Sharif will receive the words for national competition today, Thursday. Escobar said that she will continue to meet with him. In addition to the flash-card method used for the first bees, Sharif will now use a software application. He plans to study on a daily basis, he said.

Sharif said that he would not recommend competing if a student does not like going onstage.

“If you’re someone who likes competing, then I would recommend it,” he said.

“I appreciate all the support he received from his teachers at Guilderland Elementary and Farnsworth Middle School,” said Derwesh.

At the national competition, Derwesh said, the first phase of the bee will be a written exam, which will whittle the number of competitors down from 290 to about 50. Two oral competitions will reduce them further to 12 to 15 students for the final competition.

Sharif is not worried, he said.

“Academically, he’s an A student,” Derwesh said.

“He’s a very bright boy, very hard-working,” Escobar agreed.

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