The Words a Marana Eighth Grader Spelled to Get to the National Spelling Bee

Karen Opoku-Appoh after winning the Arizona Spelling Bee on March 18, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Arizona Educational Association)

By Jessica Swarner

March 30, 2023

“I just can’t wait to represent Arizona at the nationals.” 

Karen Opoku-Appoh, a Marana eighth grader, had to win five spelling bees to get to where she is now—she’s representing Arizona in the upcoming 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee. 

The 14-year-old won classroom and school spelling bees at Marana Middle School, which is located northwest of Tucson. Then she won district, county, and state to become Arizona’s champion. 

Since December, Karen has been studying a page of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which contains over 200 words, each day. 

“I felt very happy, very excited, very proud of myself,” Karen said of winning the state bee. “I didn’t really think I’d get first place. I just wanted to be in the top five at first because I was exhausted by then.” 

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Karen will be going to National Harbor, Maryland, in May, to compete in the National Bee along with the state’s runner-up—Opal Mishra, a sixth grader from Basha Accelerated Middle School in Chandler. The finals will be broadcast on June 1. 

“I just can’t wait to represent Arizona at the nationals,” Karen said. “And I also just want to see what’s there in Washington, DC, and meet all the contestants.” 

Karen will be one of 234 spellers at the competition representing all 50 states, Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe. There will also be spellers representing the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, and Ghana.

Spellers will have to go through three rounds of competition to get to the finals, where a winner will be crowned.

Getting Here

Karen has grown up living between the US and the West African country of Ghana. 

She said she didn’t really have an interest in competing in spelling competitions until she participated in her school’s and found she was naturally good at it. 

Her family helps quiz her, and she also has support from friends and teachers. 

Her dad will join her at nationals as her chaperone, but she said more of her family plans to join her if they can. 

Besides spelling, she enjoys reading, watching TV, playing outside, and learning about astrology. 

She is interested in pursuing a career as a pathologist, a doctor who studies body fluids, tissues, and organs. 

The Words

Karen said she has a favorite word: kaffeeklatsch, a word of German origin that, according to Merriam-Webster, means “an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation.” 

That word didn’t come up in the bee, though. She won on the word “passage,” but spelled harder words before that last round to win. Here are the other 25 words Karen spelled correctly: 


























All rounds of competition for the Scripps National Spelling Bee will be broadcast on ION.

The champion will receive $52,500 in cash prizes, the Scripps Cup trophy, a reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $400 of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.  

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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