Education

He’s in Mensa and was on ‘Genius Junior.’ The 12-year-old is now Miami-Dade’s top speller

Rodrigo Medinilla may only be 12, but he’s got an impressive resume: Mensa member, contestant on NBC’s “Genius Junior” and participant in the World Championship Robotics Competition.

On Tuesday, the seventh-grader from Pinecrest Preparatory Middle High added another accolade — winner of the 79th Annual Miami Herald Spelling Bee.

The winning word was acervation, which according to Merriam-Webster means accumulation.

Rodrigo considered his winning word an easy one even though he was reeling from an almost miss in a previous round when the word was fussbudget, a fussy person. He almost added an o between the e and the t.

“This is it,” his mother Aida Medinilla remembers saying as she watched her son struggle. “When he got it, I figured he could get anything.”

Every year, the Miami Herald hosts two bees — one for elementary and middle school students in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and one for Broward. The two winners join about 500 top spellers from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and across the globe at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The national Bee will be celebrating its 92nd year and will be held from May 26-May 31 in Maryland.

The Broward Bee will be held March 6 at the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines.

”This event is at the core of our mission because it promotes literacy and education,” said Silvia Larrieu, events and partnerships manager for the Miami Herald Media Company.

This year, 166 spellers from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties gathered Tuesday at the University of Miami’s Donna Shalala Student Center to test their skills. Students began with a written test — 30 words to spell and 10 vocabulary questions. All of the spellers then went on stage to spell a word.

The scores were tallied and the group was whittled down to the top 15.

After 14 rounds, Rodrigo took the top spot. In second place was eighth-grader Liv Steinhardt from Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove and in third was Jason Acosta, a sixth-grader at Everglades K-8 Center.

By the time Rodrigo was 6, his mom said, a school psychologist recommended he apply to Mensa International. When he was 10, he was chosen out of 35,000 kids to be on the NBC academic competition show, “Genius Junior,” hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.

He was paired with two girls, one from Orlando and one from New Jersey, on a team called the Dork Side. The three made it to the finals.

Now in seventh grade, he is in a dual-enrollment program, which allows him to take college classes during the summer. He is now taking ninth-grade classes and has a website.

His mom said she also encourages him to “just be a kid.”

“He likes to play video games and joke around,” she said.

She said she was impressed by the Bee and is definitely looking forward to the national competition.

“He has an amazing brain, but he has to make an effort.”

Rodrigo said he plans on “staring at the dictionary.”

“It’s not a fun process, but the reward will be worth it,” he said.

Carli Teproff grew up in Northeast Miami-Dade and graduated from Florida International University in 2003. She became a full-time reporter for the Miami Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news.
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