OGMS student spells her way to state win


When Yolanda Ni, an eighth-grader at Oak Grove Middle School, recently spelled the word “apothecary” to win the 2019 Mississippi Spelling Bee in Jackson, her thoughts immediately turned to her English teacher, Ginger Weathers.

“I was thinking that Mrs. Weathers would love this moment, because of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – we were just reading that in class,” said Ni, who beat out 39 other students to win the state championship.

Ni’s win at that event – which was sponsored by the Mississippi Association of Educators and broadcast live on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television – earned her a spot in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held in May in Washington, D.C. The winner of that competition will be the top speller from among 11 million spelling bee participants this year around the country.

“Honestly, I want to be able to represent Mississippi to the best of my ability,” Ni said. “It doesn’t feel real yet – it’s such a big experience.”

To get to the state championships, Ni won the district championship recently held in Purvis. The winning word there was “belay,” referring to techniques used by rock climbers to exert tension on a climbing rope.

“I am so excited and proud of Yolanda,” said Patrick Gray, principal at Oak Grove Middle. “She is exceptionally bright, talented, and has worked hard to achieve this goal. Yolanda is without a doubt a true example of an Oak Grove Warrior.”

For Ni, that hard work includes two to three hours a day spent practicing her vocabulary and spelling.

“I got myself a coach, and he really helps me understand words,” she said. “If I get a word I don’t know, I’ll be able to figure it out then.

“But then I also put in many words into Quizlet (an online study site) and quiz myself if there are no people to quiz me. And then sometimes I get my parents to help me with that. So it’s quite a pursuit.”

Ni’s journey to the national championship started about three years ago, when she won a 5th-grade spelling bee and realized she enjoyed the competition.

“At first, I think it was the thrill of competing,” she said. “But then when I won the school bee, I kind of just realized that I enjoyed seeing words put together.” 

Tess Smith, superintendent of the Lamar County School District, said she’s enjoyed keeping up with Ni’s pursuits and is looking forward to the national championship.

“I am so proud on her accomplishments,” she said. “I wish her well on her trip to Washington, D.C., as she represents her school, our district and her state in the next level of competition. I know that she will do us all proud.”