Youngest kindergartner to win River Oaks Elementary spelling bee on his way to regionals

Courtney Carpenter Image
Friday, February 24, 2023
HISD kindergartner set to compete in regional spelling bee
No one expected a kindergartner to win, nor did they expect Zachary to end up the runner-up of HISD's district-wide competition, but that's exactly what happened.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Kindergartner Zachary Teoh is the youngest ever River Oaks Elementary School spelling bee champion.

Typically, kindergartners do not participate in the school's spelling bee. However, after a discussion, the decision was made to let the youngest members of the school compete too.

"I remember speaking with Zach and saying, 'The most important thing is we want you to have fun,' not thinking he would be our prevailing winner, and he was, so we are really excited and happy for him," explained Brett Gallini, principal of River Oaks Elementary.

No one expected a kindergartner to win, nor did they expect Zachary to end up the runner-up of HISD's district-wide competition, but that's exactly what happened.

"I was very happy, and then I was excited for the next one," Zachary said.

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At the district-wide spelling bee earlier this month, Zachary competed against students up to eighth grade, beating out children over twice his age.

"My favorite part was when it started being one-on-one. The entire spelling district was 36 rounds," Zachary said.

His teacher and classmates have been cheering him on the whole way.

"It was a very, very proud moment. He's just a great kid, and it was so fun, and I know the whole class really enjoys supporting him and following his journey," Zachary's teacher, Michelle Liner, said.

They have more to cheer for, as Zachary is heading to the regional spelling bee next month.

His key to success? Practice!

"My mom types the word in this dictionary called Merriam-Webster and sounds the word out on the computer," Zachary said.

Then he spells it and writes it down. He has notebooks filled with his practice words.

His parents say he started reading when he was around 3-and-a-half years old. He's got an extensive vocabulary. His favorite word, though, makes him laugh!

"C-O-W-L-I-C-K, cowlick. 'Why is that your favorite word?' "Because it sounds very funny!"

He's kind, and inquisitive and is making his parents very proud.

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"For me, the most important thing is that he had fun up there, and also along the way, he learned a lot of things like how to stay calm under pressure, asking the right questions to get to the solution, I think that's a really important experience that he can apply later on in his life," Michael Teoh, Zachary's father, said.

The regional spelling bee competition is set for March 25 at Houston Community College.

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