Mitchell Leung has the borough spellbound. The fifth-grade student from P.S. 499 and North Flushing native recently competed in the city-wide spelling bee, after taking home top honors at the Queens Bee.
Mitchell’s favorite subject in school has always been reading, estimating that he owns over several hundred books. He tends to favor science fiction literature, devouring The Hunger Games series almost instantly.
His favorite author is Rick Riordan, creator of series such as Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles.
“Years of reading have helped him in spelling,” said Mitchell’s mother, Essa Leung. “You don’t realize that you’re studying when you’re reading the words.”
As preparation for the competition, Essa, a producer on an MSNBC show, quizzed him on words that could possibly be asked during the contest. They also rented movies about spelling bees from the local library, such as “Spellbound,” a documentary about kids vying for a top spot at a spelling bee, and “Akeelah and the Bee,” a fictional story about a young Los Angeles girl’s bee victory.
The Queens bee was held on January 17, the same day as Mitchell’s birthday.
“It wasn’t the way you’d think a kid would want to spend his birthday,” said Essa. “It was nerve wracking and the weather was awful. The bright shining thing at the end of it was that he won.”
The top 12 winners from the Queens bee got to compete in the city-wide bee.
Mitchell’s school bused several students to the city-wide competition on March 20 at Hunter College High School to cheer on their classmate. As the spelling bee is generally a silent event, friends made signs, covered with words of encouragement, to lift his spirits.
“I was really nervous at the bee,” said Mitchell. “I didn’t want to disappoint my family and the audience. I’m not good on stage. When my classmates came that made me nervous; they all came and made signs. I didn’t want to disappoint them too.”
For Mitchell’s first word, he spelled “origami.”
For his second, he attempted to spell “nadir,” but was thrown by its pronunciation.
Regardless of the outcome, Essa was positive of the influence the experience had on her son.
“[The city-wide spelling bee] was a nice experience to see it happen and meet all the people that were involved in it,” said Essa.
When the 11-year-old gets a moment away from the spelling spotlight, he plays fantasy video games such as Pokémon, paints with water colors and oil paints and plays the violin. He also has a brown belt in Taekwando. He will be able to get his red and black belt, one level below black belt, in less than a month.
Essa admits, however, that his favorite activity is curling up with a good book.