Mentor fourth-grader headed to National Spelling Bee

Mar. 19—Tia Geisler is proof that when it comes to being an elite speller, age doesn't matter.

It is all about the letters, not the numbers, for the 9-year-old fourth-grade champion from Orchard Hollow Elementary in Mentor.

Competing against older students up through eighth grade, Tia has won the Mentor District Spelling Bee, the Lake County Spelling Bee and the Tri-County Spelling Bee all in less than a two-month span.

When she correctly spelled "rollicking" to win the Tri-County Spelling Bee over other champions from Geauga and Ashtabula counties, Tia qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. May 28 through June 3.

"I wanted to succeed not just for personal reasons, but also to represent Mentor, and to show all of my fellow students that it doesn't matter how old you are — you can do this, too," she said.

Tia will turn 10 by the time the National Spelling Bee rolls around, but she still will be one of the youngest competitors at the event.

Her parents Regis and Melly have always encouraged Tia and saw early on she had a combination of natural intelligence and a dynamic work ethic.

"Tia is our only child, which has allowed us to focus all of our energy on her and part of that energy has been celebrating and rewarding her for her academic successes, so that studying doesn't seem so much like work," Regis said. "Learning should be more fun than grueling, especially at that young age.

"Tia is naturally quite smart and picks things up very quickly, but she's also the hardest working kid I've ever been around. She knows that all of the talent in the world can be squandered if you don't work hard."

Regis said his daughter has always been a great speller and he and his wife have been reading to her daily and quizzing her on her spelling since she started talking when she was just a few months old.

Tia's fourth-grade teacher at Orchard Hollow, Desiree Dickinson, said her parents' involvement in her academics have paid off.

"Tia is a very gifted student with above average natural abilities in all subjects including art," Dickinson said. "Even with this strength, she strives to always do her best and learn from her mistakes. Although material comes easy to Tia, she puts extra effort into all she does."

Dickinson added that what stands out to her as her teacher is also that Tia is a compassionate and caring student.

One example of this was at the Tri-County Spelling Bee when Tia walked off the stage after winning to console a student that had been upset that she had lost. She was also recognized for this act of sportsmanship at the March 14 school board meeting.

Tia had to win the Orchard Hollow fourth-grade spelling bee as the first step of her journey, which took place on Jan. 12. The next step was winning the fourth-grade Mentor District Spelling Bee on Jan. 23. About 20 minutes after that victory, she had to take on the winners of the 5th-, 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade Mentor District Spelling Bees so that an overall district champion could be crowned.

After going four rounds and correctly spelling the winning word of "Vesuvian," her next challenge was competing at the Lake County Spelling Bee which took place on Feb. 1 at the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve in Painesville.

At that event there were eight other contestants ranging in grades from fourth through eighth, but once again Tia persevered and emerged victorious, this time her winning word was "betrothal."

Regis said Tia's success has been a combination of dedication in the classroom and at home.

"All of Tia's teachers at Orchard Hollow, going all the way back to kindergarten, have routinely provided spelling instruction and activities for their students, but as we all know, learning has to happen both at home and at school," Regis said. "So, my wife and I have always quizzed Tia on her weekly word lists given to her by her teachers. But ever since Tia became Orchard Hollow's 3rd-grade spelling bee champion last year, she has been studying at home in earnest in order to defend her crown. "

After Tia won the Orchard Hollow 4th-grade spelling bee, she has been studying from the "Words of the Champions" list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Some of the words that she's had to spell in her previous spelling bees were taken directly from that list. Tia's study technique has been to tackle two columns from the list (about 65-70 words) every night.

"First, Tia will go through the list and pronounce each word to us correctly. I have to admit, I'm not even sure how to pronounce some of the words without looking them up first," Regis said. "Then we will go back through the list and ask Tia to spell the words for us. If she happens to miss any words, we go over those words again after we've gone all the way through the two columns."

Regis said Tia was a bundle of nerves at each contest, but you would never have been able to tell that if you didn't know her as she showed poise and composure in victory.

Tia also credited her principal Jeniffer Harris, Dickinson, her 3rd-grade teacher Chelsea Sadlik, and the rest of the faculty and staff at Orchard Hollow for all of the teaching, encouragement and support that they have given her on her way to competing against the nation's best spellers.

"The entire Orchard Hollow community is both proud and excited for Tia," Dickinson said. "Following each victory, both her classmates and the entire school celebrated with cheers and accolades when our principal, Mrs. Harris, announced her victory at the spelling bee. Our motto at Orchard Hollow is to 'reach higher to be your best self' and Tia does just that. She is such a hard worker and our entire school will continue to cheer her on in May."