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Indian kids excelling in prestigious contests

Indian kids have been dominating the Bee contests in USA, and two more kids have joined the clubs of excellence this year. A 13-year-old boy, Sameer Mishra from Indiana, won the 81st annual Scripps National Spelling Bee on Friday 30th May. Last week, Akshay Rajagopal, a 11-year-old boy from Nebraska has won the perfect score in National Geography Bee. Sameer Mishra took home a cash prize of $35,000 along with another $5,000 plus in other prizes, while Akshay won a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

Sameer from West Lafayette, Indiana, who often had the audience laughing with his one-line commentaries, aced "guerdon" - a word that appropriately means "something that one has earned or gained" - to win competition. This was Sameer's fourth year in the competition. His previous attempts saw him finish at 98th, 14th and 16th places in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively. The second spot was bagged by Sidharth Chand, 12, of Bloomfield Hills, who stumbled on "prosopopoeia" (a word describing a type of figure of speech). This was Sidharth's first year at the bee.

Rajagopal is only the second winner in the Bee’s 20-year history to achieve a perfect score in the finals. More than five million students from throughout the country participated in this year’s Geography Bee. He said he planned to keep his winnings in an interest-bearing account for college, where he plans to study either cartography or meteorology.

The Indian fetish for the Spelling Bee contests was sparked off by the 1985 triumph of Balu Natarajan (13 yrs), who won the title by correctly spelling the word "milieu." Word of his exploit spread among the Indian community and the event came to be seen as a passport to acceptance in a competitive society. Since then, half a dozen Indian-American kids have won the title, including five in the last nine years, making the event a lively Indian stomping ground. Once a commentator said Indian dominance in the annual spelling event "makes them the equivalent of Kenyans in marathons." Riding on their success, the community now has its own "South Asian Spelling Bee" championship in the US. At the same time, people were criticising that the parents are putting excessive pressure on kids to learn spellings of obscure words that are seldom likely to be used and don't exactly contribute to an all-round education. Once this event was even barracked by protesters from an organization called Simplified Spelling Society who campaign against linguistic oddities.

But with each passing year the event has only grown stronger in a society that thrives on spectacle and often turns it into showbiz. Some organizations like North South Foundation are working extensively to spread the awareness among the community. In fact most of the winners in the Scripps Nationals are already winners or top participants in the NSF Bee contests. Sameer Mishra, Champion, is a NSF child from Indianapolis, Sidharth Chand, got 2nd place at Bloomfield, MI, Samia Nawaz got 4th place, Little Rock, AK Kavya Shivashankar, 4th place, is a NSF child from Kansas City Jahnavi Iyer, 8th place, is a NSF child from Harrisburg, PA / Allentown, PA.

Some research studies mentioned the family and the extended family exert a major influence in the lives of Asian American children brought up in the US. As a result they are smarter, better educated and make more money than children from other non-resident communities. They move up the educational ladder and are widely encouraged to choose professional courses like engineering and medicine rather than try their luck at business. This does indeed ensure a better life for Asian children.

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