Tamya Matthews
Tamya Matthews
At Mount Calvary School in Forestville, champion is spelled "T-A-M-Y-A." That is because Tamya Matthews, a seventh-grader at the school, recently won the Prince George's County Spelling Bee.

After correctly spelling the word "prosciutto," Tamya not only won the local spelling championship, but has moved on to compete in a national spelling bee.

"It was amazing, and my who family was excited for me," Tamya said.

Tamya, the daughter of Monica Garvin and Thomas Matthews of Clinton, is a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Washington.

Although she was admittedly "nervous and felt the pressure," she kept her cool, and would visualize the words as they were presented to her. "I typed the words out, and I would visualize what I typed," she explained.

As she thought about how to spell the word presented to her, Tamya would ask the judges for the word origin, usage, what part of speech it is, alternative pronunciations and definition.

The county spelling bee was held at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland in College Park. Thirty-two students competed, and after nine rounds all were eliminated except Tamya and Shawn Muoneke, an eighth-grader at the Academy of St. Matthias the Apostle in Lanham.

The two Catholic school students went word for word until the 14th round when Tamya spelled "prosciutto"- a type of cured Italian ham - to win the county title.

As the winner of that event, Tamya goes on to compete against more than 400 students in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The national competition will be held Mary 25-31 at National Harbor on the Potomac River in Fort Washington.

Her competition in that spelling bee will be students from every state in the nation as well as from American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

"This is the first time a Catholic school student has won this (Prince George's Spelling Bee)," said Darcy Tomko, Mount Calvary School's principal. "I am over the moon. The whole school is over the moon about this. Tamya is an absolutely awesome student."

Boasting a 4.0 grade point average, Tamya has been on the principal's honors list every academic quarter since the fourth grade.

"I am not at all surprised that Tamya won. I knew she was going to win," Tonko said of her star spelling student. "I also think she is going to win the national spelling bee, too."

Tamya said that "words from Latin and Greek" are the easiest for her to spell. "You have to remember to use 'p-h' for 'f' and 'g' for 'j'." Tamya said. She said the more difficult words for her to spell are those of German or Slavic origin. She also admitted to "studying a lot of Italian words because they were hard."

Her advice for future spelling bee competitors is "lots and lots of reading - reading is the key." She also recommends that competitive spellers study prefixes, suffixes and root words.

After Mount Calvary, Tamya plans on attending a Catholic high school - she hasn't yet decided which one - and later to attend college where she hopes to study infectious diseases. "I want to look at bacteria and maybe find a cure for the common cold or cancer," she said.

Tamya noted that outside of studying about 10 hours each week for the spelling bee, the education she receives at Mount Calvary has also helped her. Among the words she had to conquer to win the championship were "balalaika" and "anschluss."

"Balalaika" (a Russian stringed musical instrument ) she learned to spell because her reading teacher taught her class a unit on Russian folk tales. "Anschluss" (the term used for the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany) was a vocabulary word she had to learn in social studies.

"She is just a wonderful young lady, so poised, and we enjoy just watching her blossom," Tomko said.

In addition to an all-expense-paid stay at National Harbor, Tamya also won a $100 savings bond; a trophy; an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet; gift cards to local shops and restaurants; a $500 shopping spree at a local mall; and a Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Mount Calvary School was also presented with a trophy, which it proudly displays at the entrance to the school.