Ask 7-year-old Landen Achenbach what he is excited to do while in Des Moines to attend the Iowa State Fair, and he will happily tell you.
“Go swimming! And we (Achenbach and his parents) get to stay in a hotel!”
Swimming, however, is only one part of the weekend. At 9 a.m. on Friday, Achenbach will be one of 70 first-and second-grade students from across the state who will participate in the Iowa State Fair Spelling Bee.
The spelling bee has been a tradition at the Iowa State Fair for at least 30 years. There are three categories - grades one and two, grades three and four, and grades five and six.
The Iowa State Fair Spelling Bee coordinator sends letters to teachers across the state each spring. Teachers then select up to three students, at their discretion, to be considered for the bee. Achenbach’s teacher, Lisa Leu of Glenwood Northeast Elementary, thought immediately of him.
“Landen has a great visual memory of words. I noticed that he is one of those kids who, right away, knows that a word is misspelled when he sees it,” Leu said.
In March, she gave a few of her students with top spelling scores a separate quiz, and of those, Achenbach scored the highest. There was also a second reason behind Leu choosing Achenbach.
“I think Landen is confident enough to get up in front of the other people on stage,” Leu commented. “With this age group, some of the kids would be shy. I thought this would be a good opportunity for him.”
Leu presented Achenbach’s mother, Kasi, with the entry information. Kasi sent the information to the coordinator in May, and the family found out the first week of July that Landen was accepted. Leu, who has taught for six years in Glenwood, stated that Landen is the first student from Glenwood that she is aware of to participate in the bee.
Landen enjoys playing basketball with his friends at the YMCA during the day. He also enjoys going for rides with his dad, Josh Achenbach. At night, however, he spells.
“We started off spelling the words orally, but that didn’t work well. He's better at writing,” Kasi said. “We do it (study) before going to bed. We’ll do about 20 words, then he’ll beg to continue, so we'll do about five more, and then we’re done.”
Leu has also been kept aware of his progress.
“I have seen him at the Y this summer, and he always runs up to me and tells me the words he’s been practicing. He’s a great kid.”
The Iowa State Fair contest, like many other spelling bees, combines oral and written competition. The first few rounds are written, but when no more than 10 participants are left, they begin the oral rounds. The bee is finished when there is one student left standing.
Every student entered receives door prizes such as water bottles. The top three students in each category receive other prizes, ranging from a four-person pass to Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines to Iowa State University T-shirts. All winning students receive a dictionary.