Local speller set for big bee

Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 12:26 a.m.
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Katie Olson, 13, is shown wearing her spelling bee name tag May 22. Olson is a home-schooled student and is going to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., today.

EMILY HARRIS/Special to The Sun



  • What: 77th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee

  • When: Today through Thursday. ESPN will broadcast the competition live from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m. on Wednesday and throughout competition hours Thursday.

  • Where: Washington, D.C.

  • Who: Katie Olson, 13, of Gainesville is among 265 spellers competing for the national spelling championship title. The champion will receive $18,000 worth of prize money.

  • When it comes to performing under pressure, Katie Olson knows what it takes to come out on top.
    "I just put my trust in God and do my best," she said.
    The eighth-grader's "best" paid off when she won both the annual Alachua County school district spelling bee and the Times-Union Regional Spelling Bee earlier this year.
    Armed with faith and unwavering determination, Katie, 13, begins competing today at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. She is among 265 competitors from across the country vying for the national spelling bee championship title.
    Katie said in an interview at her family's northwest Gainesville home that she was excited about the competition.
    "I like the excitement of competition - the nervousness of knowing that if you misspell one word, you're out," Katie said.
    "I've been studying a lot - about 20 hours a week."
    Katie, who receives home-school instruction from her mother, Heather Olson, has been studying more than 4,000 words to prepare for the competition.
    Her journey to nationals began with her victory at the Alachua County school district bee on Feb. 5 after spelling "cyclops" correctly. Katie's winning word - "gossamer" - at the Times-Union Regional Spelling Bee on March 6, crowned her as the Northeast Florida regional spelling champion and guaranteed her a place at the national competition.
    Katie, who is an avid reader and loves "Little Women" and "Jane Eyre," said the most difficult part of preparing for the national bee is learning foreign words - especially French words. Balancing studying and school work with her extracurricular passions that include music, gymnastics and church is also a daunting task, Katie said.
    "I work at my own pace," she said. "I'm more relaxed and focused since I study at home."
    As she prepares for the competition, Katie said she has relied greatly on her Christian faith to keep her motivated. She said she wants to be a pastor like her father, Eric Olson, who is a co-pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
    "I've done two sermons, and I really loved being up there and sharing my faith with everyone," Katie said.
    With aspirations to attend the University of Florida and become a biochemist, Katie isn't slowing down one bit.
    "I have so many different interests," she said. "I want to keep learning, and I want to become a biochemist so I can help other people."
    Katie Olson said there's nothing better than rolling out of bed in her pajamas and going to school - literally.
    "I love pajama days," Katie said with a laugh. "I really like that I spend time with my family and that we all go to lunch together and hang out."
    Heather Olson said she believes home-schooling has helped shape her daughter's academic success.
    "I think it's better for her to learn social skills and character from the home where we (her parents) have more life experience than she'd find in a regular school," she said.
    Katie's mother has home-schooled all three of her children. Heather Olson said that home-schooling provides her children with flexibility and has added more stability to their lives. She said she doesn't think her kids have missed out on anything by learning at home.
    "Home-schooled children are socially apt," she said. "They are more mature and we can talk to them on an adult level. I take my kids to different places and they socialize with a broad range of people."
    According to the Florida Parent-Educators Association, home-schooled children in grades one to four perform one grade level higher than public and private school students, while eighth-grade students taught in home-schools perform four grades above the national average.
    "We've instilled a love of learning in all our children and we try to make it fun," Heather Olson said.
    Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3103.

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