Merced brothers v-i-c-t-o-r-i-o-u-s in county spelling bee

Brothers Daniel, left, and David Chen each placed first in their grade levels at the Merced County Office of Education Spelling Bee.
Brothers Daniel, left, and David Chen each placed first in their grade levels at the Merced County Office of Education Spelling Bee. Merced County Office of Education

David and Daniel Chen have one more thing in common now besides being brothers: Both are winners of their grade levels in the 2015-16 Merced County Office of Education Spelling Bee.

Daniel, a sixth-grader at Burbank Elementary, beat more than 80 other students from throughout the county Tuesday, spelling “querulous” as his last word. Then, on Wednesday, his eighth-grader brother, David, spelled about 80 words correctly and also earned first place. David attends Cruickshank Middle School.

Their father, Yangquan, was in the audience Wednesday hanging on David’s every word.

“I keep track so we can understand when he makes mistakes,” Chen said.

Chen called spelling “a sort of family fun” for the brothers, who challenge each other at home. Chen also credited the boys’ “very strict mother” for their hard work and wins.

The older brother, David, already has some high-level spelling experience under his belt. He earned second place at last year’s countywide spelling bee and advanced to the state spelling bee.

Yangquan and David both said they were pleasantly surprised by young Daniel’s win.

“Last year, he missed simple words,” Yangquan said. “He focused on the hard words and neglected the simple words.”

David said he knew most of the words from studying a list, but sometimes he had to use his intuition if the proctor mispronounced a word. Some of the words on the list were terraqueous, oligochaete, terpsichorean and oneiric.

Jill Settera, principal at Cruickshank, said David is “very bright.”

“He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met,” she said.

Not only is David an award-winning speller, he also takes advanced courses in math, is the drum major in the school band and scored perfect marks on the Smarter Balanced standardized test in both language arts and math the first year the test was administered.

Jaryll Acosta, an eighth-grader from Rivera Middle School, took second place on Wednesday. He, too, will advance to the state spelling bee. Jaryll said he was nervous, but most of the words were familiar from his many hours of studying.

“He always makes us proud,” his mother, Yrel Acosta, said with a tear in her eye.

Before moving to the final round, Jaryll and David shared a handshake as they mingled with their families.

Jasleen Kaur, an eighth-grader at Los Banos Junior High, earned third place and will be an alternate for the state competition.

In the younger grades, Burbank Elementary School sixth-grader Isabella Alforque took second place and Stefani Elementary School sixth-grader Jani Vue placed third.

Michelle Symes, coordinator for Instructional Services at the Merced County Office of Education, was the word master for both the elementary and junior high competitions. Words and definitions were given to students before they put their spelling skills into action. The elementary school word list is provided by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, which holds the elementary state spelling bee championship. The Marin County Office of Education provides the junior high word list and holds the state championship in San Rafael.