Education

Hebrew Academy student wins Miami-Dade spelling bee

Jack Benveniste-Plitt, 14, an eighth grader at Hebrew Academy, rolls his eyes upward as he concentrates on spelling the word “umbrageous,” which won him the spelling bee. Miami-Dade middle-school students competed in the Miami-Dade Spelling Bee at Jungle Island on Wednesday.
Jack Benveniste-Plitt, 14, an eighth grader at Hebrew Academy, rolls his eyes upward as he concentrates on spelling the word “umbrageous,” which won him the spelling bee. Miami-Dade middle-school students competed in the Miami-Dade Spelling Bee at Jungle Island on Wednesday. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It took multiple rounds, but eighth-grader Jack Benveniste-Plitt won the 75th annual Miami Herald Spelling Bee for Miami-Dade and Monroe County middle school students Wednesday.

Always calm and keeping an eye on his family in the front row, Benveniste-Plitt took home first place with the word “umbrageous.” It means “affording shade,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The 14-year-old from Hebrew Academy flashed a huge smile, braces and all, when he was declared the winner. He walked away with a blue-and-gold trophy topped with a bee, and a very proud little brother.

Benveniste-Plitt said he wasn’t counting on winning.

“Well, he did,” said his 7-year old brother, Cole. “I’m very happy.”

Now, Benveniste-Plitt said he will get back to studying. His reward is a trip to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. He also got a Kindle (“You have to share it,” Cole insisted) and a VIP tour of Jungle Island, which hosted the event. Benveniste-Plitt also got a dictionary — not that he needs it.

His mom and dad, Tami and Jared, said they didn’t push their son to study too much.

“We’re very proud of the time he put in, but we never wanted him to be memorizing the dictionary all year,” his dad said.

Melanie Colarte, from Herbert A. Ammons Middle, took second place. Melanie Barata, from Mater Academy, landed in third place — though she has had more success competing in Spanish, she said.

For the competitors in elementary school, it came down to the word “sumptuous.”

Vasundara Govindarajan, a fifth-grade student at Archimedean Academy, took home the first-place trophy. Tall and slim, she raised her hands over her head and rubbed her neck while rocking on her feet to celebrate.

“I was scared,” she admitted while clutching a red-and-gold trophy.

Her older brother rushed the stage and patted the top of Vasundara’s head in congratulations. He knows how this moment feels: Vaidya Govindarajan, in 11th grade at Archimedean, has won the Bee twice. He went on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and placed in the top 10, he said.

“She made us proud,” said their dad, Muthiah Govindarajan.

Vaniel Barahona, from Oliver Hoover Elementary, won second place. Michael Tsema, from Norman S. Edelcup/Sunny Isles Beach K-8, took home third.

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