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MAY 23, 2012

Poplar Bluff youth 'a different kid' before national spelling bee

Twelve-year-old Adeesh Mishra will head to the National Spelling Bee in Washington. D.C., during the last week of May.

"I've been studying ever since the Three Rivers Bee in February," said Mishra from his family's home in Poplar Bluff. "I have a computer program that helps me study. I record the words, then I listen to them, and then the computer asks me to spell the word just like the judges will at the competition. My parents also help me study."

"I went to school in India, and there are certain things taught there that help you with memorizing, and I've been teaching him those techniques," said Adeesh's mother, Babita Patnaik. "They actually work for him. We've also hired tutors to help him...there are so many words with foreign-language origins, and I've not been able to help him with that. So we've hired a lady whom he's been taking classes with, as well as a teacher from Sacred Heart, Ms. Wilson. She's been studying with him for an hour every day, in addition to the work he's been doing on his own. There's a lot of material that he has to work on."

"I haven't always been a good speller," confesses Mishra. "Last year, my mom asked me to spell 'banana.' I said 'bannana.' But ever since I got in the running for the spelling bee, my spelling ability and vocabulary have increased a lot."

"He's always been a very good student, but not a promising speller," agrees Patnaik. "He always wanted to compete in a spelling bee, but he never actually thought about going after it until this year. He's been working pretty hard."

Mishra, a student at the Sacred Heart School in Poplar Bluff, is multilingual, and speaks four different languages fluently (English, Hindi, Bengali and Oriya.) Of the four, his favorite is Oriya, and he thinks English is the most complicated. Standard Hindi, Bengali and Oriya are just three of over 30 different languages spoken in different regions of India.

"I'm excited about visiting the capital. I've never been," said Mishra. "I'm looking forward to the tour of Washington, D.C., and seeing all the sites. I'm really nervous and really excited at the same time."

Mishra's parents are from the east Indian state of Orissa, and have lived in Poplar Bluff for seven years. Adeesh was born in Springfield, Mo., where his parents lived and worked for several years before relocating.

"We've been in Missouri for about 18 years," said Patnaik, whose father-in-law, Shyam Sundar Mishra, is a retired English teacher living in India. "We've lived in Mountain View and Cabool as well. When we first came to the U.S., we came to Springfield. Then we were in Michigan for about a year, but most of our time here has been spent in Missouri."

Patnaik and her husband, Subrat Mishra (both occupational therapists), co-own and operate their practice, Advanced Therapy Services, with two other local partners, a speech therapist and a physical therapist.

"I have always been competitive, and so was my husband, in our schools back home in India," said Patnaik. "You have to do your best, you cannot be mediocre. We didn't have the job opportunities we have here in the States. You either do well, or you're just left out. When you come from that kind of background, you're always competitive. You put your best foot forward."

Adeesh has one sibling, Adeeti Mishra, who is 7 years old. "She's excited about seeing me in the Spelling Bee, and about going to Washington with my parents," said Adeesh.

"I would like to thank Three Rivers College for sponsoring Adeesh," said Patnaik. "They've been really good about supporting him. They have provided airfare and accommodations for two people, and I think it was very gracious of them to do that. As parents, we are very grateful."

"Thanks to support from the Three Rivers Endowment Trust, area business and organization sponsors, and the college itself, we provide Adeesh and one parent with round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations, ground transportation, and meals for the week-long National Spelling Bee trip," confirmed Mark Sanders, an instructor of English at Three Rivers who has coordinated the Three Rivers Spelling Bee for the past three years.

"I'm honored to be a part of the spelling bee," said Sanders. "It's a unique way that we reach out to our extended southeast Missouri community. We invite schools from 17 different counties, and we interact with grade schools, middle schools, junior high schools - in other words, our future students."

"If he won, we would be very proud," said Patnaik, hesitantly. She admitted that, in Indian culture, it isn't customary to advertise a potential achievement until it has been accomplished. "He'd put our little town on the map. To me, that's the biggest achievement: to represent a small town and talk about the good schooling that he's had here. It would be good for other kids around here to see him as an example."

Patnaik acknowledged that the odds will be against her son at the National Spelling Bee: it will be his first year to compete, and as a sixth-grader, he will be among the youngest of the contestants from all over the country and the world.

"Regardless of the outcome, we are thankful for this opportunity," said Patnaik. "We're so proud of him for his hard work. It's changed everything about him. He's matured in three months, he's a different kid now. His vocabulary has increased tremendously. He's been able to sit in one place and study for hours, and that will prepare him for the future as well. I've always told him to use his potential, but he's never had an experience of winning quite like this."
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