Tween Talk with Eugenia Tachie Menson: One of the World’s Superhumans…


I couldn’t believe it as I was watched from my computer screen, ESPN2’s broadcast of a historic moment in our lives – an African American girl-tweenager (14years to be precise) had emerged the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion in its 96-year history.  That makes her the second person of African descent to win this international competition. 12year old Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica was the first Black person to win in 1998; the competition has since been dominated by Indian Americans since 2008. 

Zaila Avant-garde

The world has been blessed with the superhuman called Zaila Avant-Garde, the 14-year-old African American who won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, USA on July 8.  Her winning word was ‘murraya’- a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees. It’s been fascinating getting to read up on Zaila’s achievements at just 14years.  She is such a motivation!  Why do I say that?  Here goes:

Zaila the Speller Champion – She joined the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition only 2 years before winning; something of a rarity, as most winners have had at least 4 years’ experience. Zaila studies seven hours daily and learns 13,000 words in that period – that’s almost like having a fulltime job as an adult!  With that kind of dedication and commitment, victory was definitely within her reach!  It wasn’t just about cramming words though; she had an early appetite for books.

“Since I was a young child, reading and words has always been something that I loved,” Zaila says. “I’ve read like over a thousand books. So that’s definitely something I’ve done a lot of {reading}. And then my father saw the spelling bee and asked me some words from them and was surprised at the fact that I could spell some of them.”  She doesn’t think her spelling routine is overboard – she contends she has another 17 hours in the day to fit in school, basketball, and rest, after all that!

Zaila the Baller – No, I don’t mean football or soccer.  She is a talented basketball player and has set three Guinness World Records – that is no mean feat! One of the records is for the most basketballs dribbled simultaneously (six basketballs for 30seconds), another record is for the most basketball bounces (307 bounces in 30seconds) and the final record is for the most bounce juggles in one minute (255 using four basketballs).  Any wonder she plans to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)? Oh, did I mention she also wants to work with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)? I.Am.In.AWE!!!

Zailer the Mathematician – What, you thought that was not possible?  That a Spelling Bee champ would be someone who had a Maths bias?  Let me welcome you to the world of spelling; there’s a math and science to it.  Zaila, knows how to speed-read and discovered that she could divide five-digit numbers by two-digit numbers in her head, according to The New York Times.  Asked how she is able to ace this feat, she says “It’s like asking a millipede how they walk with all those legs,” she told the Times.  Just…wow!

Zaila’s famous last name – Her father is Jawara Spacetime, and her mother is Alma Heard.  So why is Zaila’s last name Avant-Garde?  Zaila’s father (and I am certain, in consultation with her mother) decided to give her that last name, Avant-Garde, as a tribute to the acclaimed jazz  musician, John Coltrane who had an album with that name for a title.  That name choice speaks to Zaila’s parents’ taste in music, as well as their selflessness. Goosebumps!

Zaila the homeschooled – Yes, she is homeschooled.  What’s homeschooling like, you ask?  In a typical US homeschool programme, families normally keep a structure that reflects a school setting – so they buy curriculum, textbooks, tests, teacher guides. Traditional homeschooling parents work with each child for a period of time on each subject to help teach the lessons and give quizzes, tests, and writing assignments. It requires a lot of hands-on teaching and overseeing for the parent, but many families do love the flexibility of working their children’s schedules around everyday life. But it also means the burden of making sure the children master what they need to know to succeed falls squarely on the parents. Judging by Zaila’s feats so far, her parents have done a great job educating her.

Is this not just simply oh-so-inspiring about one of the world’s youngest superhumans?


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