A month from today, on May 27, the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee will get underway in Washington, D.C. And for the second year in a row, Crookston High School student Ainsley Boucher, daughter of Stefanie and John Boucher, will be there competing. After Boucher advanced once again from the local school district bee, the regional bee and the multi-regional state bee, Times Managing Editor Mike Christopherson thought the 2018 Community Connections edition would be a great opportunity for the community to get to know Ainsley a little bit.
First, could you tell me a little bit about yourself...your family, pets, your grade in school, etc.
I am in 8th grade at Crookston High School. My parents are John and Stefanie Boucher. Emily and Evan are my siblings. I have a dog, a Bichon and Shih Tzu mix, named Ellie Mae. I play the alto saxophone and the violin. I’m a member of the Northern Valley Youth Orchestra and the Crookston Figure Skating Club. I am on the Junior Knowledge Bowl team at school.
I wanted to profile you for our special Community Connections edition because you’ve become sort of a local celebrity due to your talents as a speller. Do you have a memory back to a specific time when you knew you were interested in language, words and how to spell them?
My parents tell me, as a toddler, I was just as interested in the letters and words in books as I was with the pictures. I liked reading French/English picture dictionaries when I was little. I always liked watching the National Spelling Bee on TV. I could read at a young age, so by now I’ve read tons of books. My favorite genre is Historical Fiction, especially stories set during WWII.
Was your spelling skill something that came naturally to you, or did you really have to work at it?
I’ve always been someone who loves to read and that gave me a solid basis for recognizing words and spelling. I’ve always been interested in language, especially foreign languages, and that interest keeps me in tune to how words are spelled.
Given that you’ve advanced to the national bee in Washington, D.C. two years in a row, what is your study regimen? Do you spend a lot of time researching words online? Do you use a traditional dictionary? Do you have any teachers, parents or anyone else coaching you?
Merriam-Webster is the official dictionary for Scripps. It doesn’t matter how a word is spelled in another dictionary or online, correct spelling is determined by Merriam Webster. To prepare for the National Bee, I’ve been studying etymology, word roots in Greek and Latin, rules and patterns for spelling in other languages, and word lists. I keep an ongoing list of interesting or quirky words. I study with a friend from the 2017 National Bee and we quiz and help each other. My mom helps me learn proper pronunciation of words and patterns of spelling in various languages. Last year, I just missed advancing to the Semi-Finals because of my vocabulary test score, so this year, I’m trying to pay attention to what words mean, not only how to spell them.
What was your journey to get to the National Bee? How many tests and bees did you have to win to get to this level?
The path to Washington DC begins in Crookston in the classroom with written spelling tests. Students in grades 5-8 are given written spelling tests and the top three or four spellers in each grade attend the District Bee at Highland School. From there, the winner goes to Thief River Falls to compete in the Regional Bee. At Regionals, spellers are given a written spelling test and only the top 20 continue to the oral rounds on stage. The top four spellers from Regionals go to the Multi-Regional State Bee in Fergus Falls. Regional Bee winners from all over Minnesota, except the immediate Twin Cities area and the southeast corner, compete in Fergus Falls. The winner of the Multi-Regional State Bee goes to the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC. The Twin Cities area will send two spellers and the Rochester area will send one.
Do you consider yourself more outgoing or more of an introvert? I only ask because most people would assume it’s incredibly stressful to stand on that stage in Washington, D.C. and spell difficult words in front of all those people.
I am more shy than outgoing, yet somehow being on stage doesn’t frighten me. I am more afraid of misspelling an easy word in front of everyone than I am of being on the stage. Last year at the National Bee, when we were allowed into the Ballroom for the first time and I saw the camera crews, the huge stage, and all the lights, I thought it was very exciting!
In the film “Akeelah and the Bee,” super-speller Akeelah learns from her coach the incredible importance of knowing word origins, specifically their language of origin, because if you know a word’s origin, that is key to correctly spelling at least part of the word. No students in the bees I have pronounced at Highland School in recent years have ever asked me to identify a word’s language of origin. When you get to the stage you’re at, does that become an important strategy tool?
The language of origin is a very important key to deciphering a word’s correct spelling, especially with a word you’ve never heard before. For example, the “f” sound in Greek is usually spelled with a “ph” whereas in Latin, it is usually spelled with an “f”. If you are given a word you’ve never heard before, but know how particular sounds are usually spelled in each language, a solid educated guess can be made and you might be right!
As someone who obviously cares about words and language, how do you feel about young people and people in general these days who disregard spelling, grammar, punctuation when communicating electronically and on their phones? Do you get frustrated by that?
I tease one of my favorite quotes is “I’m silently correcting your grammar”. ;)
How has your life changed since you starting making a name for yourself as a speller last year? Does anyone treat you differently?
I’ve enjoyed meeting new people at each level of competition and travelling, too. I don’t think anyone treats me differently, but people do walk up to me out of the blue and ask me to spell words now.
What is your goal at this year’s National Spelling Bee, as far as how you finish?
Last year, I tied for 41st place at the National Spelling Bee. My goal for this year is to simply do better than that - I hope to get into the Semi-Finals and perhaps even the Finals. At the National level, it’s not enough to spell correctly on stage, but there are written spelling and vocabulary tests, too. New this year is a program Scripps created called RSVBee which allows former National finalists and spellers without a state sponsor to compete at the National Bee, so there will be an extra 225 spellers in Washington DC. Each year, the words chosen are more and more complex. Apparently, this year it won’t be enough to know the word in its simplest form, but we will be asked for the adjective or plural form of the word to make it more difficult. With the increased complexity and over 500 spellers in attendance, the competition will be more fierce than ever. I’m not sure how I will place, but it is an amazing experience to be able to participate. I’m very grateful and thankful for the opportunity.
Besides your obvious spelling skills, do you possess any quirky or unique talents, skills or habits that people outside of your inner circle are most likely unaware of? Care to share any?
With spelling, generally, if I have seen a word, I usually can remember it and spell it correctly. However, my family and I tease I’m more likely to misspell or misspeak with an “easier” word than I am with complex words which most folks haven’t heard of or use in their daily lives.
Describe where you think/hope you'll be in 10 years, or what you think/hope you'll be doing, personal life-wise and career-wise.
I’m not sure what life path I’ll choose or what path will choose me, what country I will live in, or what I will do to make a living, but I definitely know I want to go to University. Perhaps, in 10 years, I’ll still be in University! I’ve always wanted to become fluent in French and visit Montreal, so hopefully I will travel there one day. Right now, as a 13 year old, I’m interested in becoming a geneticist, but I dream of being a famous author.
Please describe yourself in ten words or less…
I’m an intelligent generous person with a faithful kind heart.