Spelling Bee - Bera Family

Brentwood Boy In National Spelling Bee

Spelling Bee - Bera Family
Rounak Bera and his parents Nandita Nang (left) and Sibes Bera relax in Brentwood the day before leaving for the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington D.C. Rounak holds his blue ribbon for being a finalist in the St. Louis regional spelling bee and his trophy for winning it. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit

It’s a long way from the Stanford Place Apartments in Brentwood to a swanky ballroom at a resort on the shores of the Potomac River near Washington D.C.

But there Rounak Bera was last week, a fifth-grader from Brentwood, competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. He got there by becoming the spelling bee champion for the entire St. Louis region back in March, rising above 60,000 other students. The series of contests is sponsored annually by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Rounak was one of 275 finalists at the national spelling bee, which was held from May 29 through June 4. After two days of competition, he fell one point short of being among the 41 students who made it to the semifinals. In the first round, a written spelling test, he got 22 of 25 words correct. In the second and third rounds he stepped up to the microphone and correctly spelled “lahar” and “prescind.” Due to how the competition is scored, if he had gotten just one more word correct in the written test, he would have made it to the finals.

But hey, being among the top 60 or 70 spellers in the U.S. isn’t bad, especially for a fifth-grader in a competition dominated by eighth-graders.

Rounak lives in the Stanford Place Apartments with his father and mother, Sibes Bera and Nandita Nang. Sibes is a biochemistry research scientist at St. Louis University and Nandita is finishing her doctorate in physics at the University of Missouri−St. Louis. They met and married in Calcutta, India, and moved to Augusta, Georgia in 1999 where Sibes attended the Medical College of Georgia. Rounak was born in 2000 and the family moved to Brentwood shortly thereafter when Sibes got the job at SLU.

Rounak attended preschool at St. Mary Magdalen and the staff there quickly realized he was advanced. They suggested moving him up to the kindergarten but Nandita didn’t want him with older children. A year later, he was in the kindergarten at Mark Twain Elementary. “After one month he was doing all the classes in the second grade,” said Sibes. So Rounak was tested and, Nandita said, “the principal [Karen Smith] thought he was exceptional and recommended an exceptional program.”

Since then, Rounak has attended Truman Elementary School in Sunset Hills, which is part of the St. Louis Regional Program for the Exceptionally Gifted Students, in the Lindbergh School District. Sibes and Nandita say Truman has offered the twin benefits of accelerated learning with students his own age. “I really like it because we do a lot of hands-on stuff, not just from worksheets,” said Rounak.

Rounak recently completed the fifth grade and this fall will skip the sixth grade and go straight to Sperreng Middle School, which is also in the gifted students program.

School Champ, Regional Champ

Rounak’s road to the national spelling bee started this past winter when he won the spelling bee at Truman Elementary. He and about 300 other school champions advanced to the regional bee at Maryville University. They took a written test to determine who’d advance to the final round, on March 19. He and fifth-grader Yelim Lee of McGrath Elementary were two of 32 who made it to the final.

In the final, an oral competition, Rounak advanced through the rounds by correctly spelling “manteau,” “diathermy,” “stiction,” “madeleine,” “keelhaul” and “pragmatic.” He won in the seventh round with “munificence.”

Contrary to the popular image of spelling bee champions who toil for hours a day on their word lists, Rounak practiced for only about an hour a day during the competition months. Sibes and Nandita said he was simply too busy with his other school work to devote more time.

Trips to Brentwood Library

Rounak was an insatiable reader even when he was in preschool. Nandita doesn’t drive so every week she walks several blocks to the Brentwood Public Library. “I’m so glad the Brentwood library is so close,” she said. “When he was five he was reading more than 20 books a week. Not picture books – real books. When he was young I didn’t want him to go to daycare because he didn’t speak English so I wanted him to be at home. So I’d bring two stacks of books home, one for him and one for me. We’ve thought about moving from here before, but I always say, ‘But the library is nearby.’”

Rounak’s favorite books are in the fantasy genre. “I Finished the Harry Potter series a long time ago but they’re still my favorite books,” he said. “I’ve read the Percy Jackson series and the Redwall series. My favorite book may be ‘The Lost Hero’ by Percy Jackson. I like the Redwall series because they’re about animals who can talk. “

Math, Mythology, Mario

Rounak does a lot more than read fiction. He won second place in state math contests in both 2010 and 2011. He’s in the mythology club at Sperreng Middle School and scored 100 percent on the national mythology exam. “That would be my favorite subject if it was one,” he said. Standing against one wall in the Beras’ living room is his recent science project exhibit, a test of the effectiveness of five different disinfectants. And he plays the cello.

But don’t think for a second that Rounak doesn’t love video games. “I do,” he said. “On my Nintendo DX I play Pokémon White and on my Wii I play Mario.” With a resigned smile, his mother added, “At night he spends a half-hour reading and a half-hour for video games. He says, ‘Whatever I do, I don’t want to miss my time for video games.’” 

Spelling Bee - Yelim Lee
Yelim Lee, who recently completed the fifth grade at McGrath Elementary School, is also a great speller. She was one of 32 students who qualified for the St. Louis regional finals. She’s shown here at the McGrath spelling bee back in January. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

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