Vocabulary kid nabs state title
GYPSUM – Graeme Richards might not have contemplated the word “unassailable” too much before arriving in Longmont last week. But by the time he left, he must have been feeling pretty unassailable himself.Graeme Richards, an eighth-grader at Gypsum Creek Middle School, is state champion of the Reader’s Digest’s Word Power Challenge contest. The contest works somewhat differently than the national spelling bee. Instead of having to know how to spell a word, you must know its meaning. “This is testing your knowledge of vocabulary,” says Gypsum Creek math teacher Susan Brainerd, who organized the school’s competition. She notes that Word Power doesn’t yet have the status of some of the older, better known national spelling bees. “It’s just kind of a fun competition,” she says. Contest questions are asked in a variety of formats, but usually with a sentence from which students must deduce the correct answer from multiple-choice answers. Denver’s Fox News meteorologist Chris Dunn was the master of ceremonies for the event.
Thirteen-year-old Graeme thinks his winning question was: “The equation ‘two plus two’ is unassailable. What does unassailable mean?” “I had been very confident,” says Graeme, even though TV cameras were rolling. But then he got two answers wrong in the last round, and wasn’t sure how the other students had faired. When he found out he’d won, he says, “I was very surprised.”The contest was held at Westview Middle School in Longmont on March 19. The National Word Power Challenge contest is open to English-speaking students in middle school, under the age of 16. The National Word Power Challenge is conducted at four levels nationwide: classroom, schoolwide, state and national. To get to the state competition, Graeme had to win first a written classroom test, which narrowed down the competitors in each grade. Then, classroom finalists participated in a school competition. This is the third year Gypsum Creek has held the competition. Along with Graeme, Anna Andrews won in the seventh-grade and Stephanie Keys won for the sixth-grade.But to qualify for state, school winners had to complete an online test.
“I had actually thought I didn’t do well,” Graeme says.All three qualified for the state contest. Sixty-six people qualified for the state competition altogether, although only 58 attended. At the state competition, all the grade levels disappear, and sixth-graders were competing against eighth-graders for the championship title.His favorite question was the one that asked what agoraphobia meant. “I had just discussed that same word on the drive to Longmont.”Surprisingly, Graeme didn’t study for the Word Power Challenge. “None of our students did,” Brainerd says. In fact, the Gypsum Creek students were surprised to see other participants studying dictionaries when they arrived.Instead, his mom, Julie, says Graeme got most of his own word power from being a consummate reader.”He’s always been a really good reader,” says Julie. “It’s his passion.” Fantasy and humor are his favorite genres, but right now he is reading an historical fiction book, “Montmorency’s Revenge.”
Brainerd notes that all three of the Gypsum Creek students who ended up being grade level champions are avid readers. “It has a spiral effect,” she says. “A good reader develops a good vocabulary, and if you develop a good vocabulary, you enjoy reading.” “I read quite a lot,” acknowledges Graeme. Graeme is now Florida-bound. Reader’s Digest is paying Graeme’s way, along with one teacher from Gypsum Middle, to Orlando for the national competition, May 13-15. The winner of that competition gets a $25,000 college scholarship, plus Reader’s Digest products for his school. Only this time, says Julie, he just might study.