Spelling Is in Her G-E-N-E-S: Carson Middle School Student Follows in Sister’s Footsteps Competing in Scripps National Spelling Bee

By Office of Communications
May 20, 2024

Ankita Balaji still remembers the word she spelled to win the 2024 Fairfax County Spelling Bee.

“Zanni,” she recalled. “Z-A-N-N-I.” It’s an Italian word defined by Merriam-Webster as “a madcap clown in masked comedy traditionally from Bergamo, Italy usually playing the part of a comic servant and indulging in acrobatic antics and tricks.” 

Rachel Carson seventh grader Ankita Balaji smiles as she leans on a short bookshelf. On top of the bookshelf are three dictionaries and a trophy.
Rachel Carson Middle School seventh grader, Ankita Balaji, will compete in the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Ankita, a seventh grader at Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, says getting the trophy felt amazing.

“I’ve been trying to do that for a while,” she said. “I’m just really proud of myself and how far I’ve come on my journey and I’m really happy.”

Next, Ankita will be the only student representing Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) on stage when the Scripps National Spelling Bee kicks off on May 28. Ankita says she spent years working toward this goal.

“I started my spelling journey in third grade when I won my first school spelling bee,” she reflected. She didn’t go to the regional spelling bee; it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But if it did happen, “I’m sure I would have done great,” she said.

The drive to spell runs in Ankita’s family. Her grandfather was the first to inspire her to win the spelling bee. Ankita’s big sister Akshita also inspires her. Now a junior at Westfield High School, Akshita competed twice in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in 2019 and 2021.

“I always expected her to go to nationals,” said Akshita. “It was very scary watching her [in the county finals] because she worked hard for this. I was excited when she won.”

Akshita now helps coach Ankita, working with her weekly, offering many tips that others can’t because she’s experienced the Scripps National Spelling Bee firsthand. Ankita says her sister taught her how to control her nerves when she spells on stage: “Focus on my words, and no one else.”

Ankita Balaji poses with her parents, mother on the left, father on the right. The three of them are seated at a table in the Rachel Carson Middle School library. Stacks of dictionaries and Ankita's trophy are on the table in front of them.
Ankita and her parents.

“I’m very proud of her,” remarked Ankita’s mother, Sumitra Sampath. “She’s worked really hard through her school and county, she’s dedicated and she’s motivated. She’s seen this in her family because of her elder sister, so I’m very happy for how far she’s come and I wish her the best.”

Ankita has her own advice to share with other students looking to pursue their goals. “Just keep working hard and doing what you’re doing,” she says. “Just do your best, that’s all that matters.”

It’s advice that’s served Ankita well, and she will continue to follow it at the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee — but not before reflecting on the long journey she’s taken so far.

When she arrives in National Harbor, Maryland, where the Bee will take place, Ankita says she will “take it all in.”

“I will look at where I am and look at how far I’ve come and just feel really happy,” she said. 

The Fairfax County Council PTA (FCCPTA) hosted the 2024 Fairfax County Spelling Bee. FCCPTA is Scripps' official Regional Partner in Fairfax County and Alexandria City.

The 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee is happening from May 28 - May 30 in National Harbor, Maryland. The final two nights of the competition air live on ION.

FCPS wishes Ankita the best of L-U-C-K! 

Ankita stands in the main foyer at Rachel Carson Middle School. Stairs with purple and green railings are behind her. Ankita holds her trophy. Standing next to Ankita, pointing at the trophy and smiling, is Carson Principal Gordon Stokes.
Ankita with Carson Middle School Principal Gordon Stokes.