Pauraque, prononced pahr-WAH-kuh, is an insectivorous nocturnal bird found from southern Texas through tropical Central and South America having brown, black, and gray plumage with a white bib. It is of Spanish origin. 

Lufkin Middle School 6th grader Aanvi Manda had never heard the word before, but if spelled correctly, she would be the alternate of this year’s Houston Public Media Scripps spelling bee competition. She had only missed one of the fifty words given in an online test format this year due to the Coronavirus. Four students including herself missed one word tying them all for the alternate position. Now they would go toe to toe on a Zoomtype platform until everyone is eliminated but one. Aanvi never missed a word, including her last word, pauraque. 

“I guessed. I got lucky. It was of Spanish descent and I’ve been taking Spanish this year,” said Aanvi.  

Although luck may have something to do with it, sheer determination is what gets Aanvi to the bee each year. This isn’t her first rodeo. 

“This is my third year. I do wear a lucky shirt. It works sometimes and sometimes it does not work as well. It’s pink and white with golden sequins in a heart,” she said. 

Last year, she made it to Washington D.C. This year, if one of the two students who qualified from the Houston bee can’t participate, then Aanvi is in. She’s practicing just in case. 

“It was more important to have an alternate this year because of Covid. If someone can’t compete, then I will,” she said. 

 Aanvi practices spelling with her mom for about an hour a day and then more on the weekends. Lufkin Middle School teacher Sydney White has been her UIL coach and helps coordinate her events.  

“It has been an absolute joy to watch Aanvi grow over the last three years. I have been able to serve as her Spelling Bee and UIL coach. Upon first impression, she was a demure, soft spoken, young lady. Now, she has blossomed into an intelligent, confident, voluble, (and much taller) young woman. Aanvi is a hard worker and determined student. She sets goals in academics and extracurriculars and challenges herself to achieve them. She also analyzes her mistakes and learns from them,” said White.

With Covid restrictions, Aanvi said there was no afterschool practice. She mainly studied with her mom.  

“She’s a tough coach, like all moms. She pushes me but doesn’t undermine my confidence,” said Aanvi.  

When not studying for the bee, she loves to read and is currently reading the “Unwanteds Quests Series”. She enjoys playing badminton with her parents. 

Even though she is exceptional in spelling, her favorite subject is math. She would like to attend an Ivy League school and work in the medical field when she grows up. 

“Spelling helps. I hear ‘what’s the point in spelling when you can use spell check or Grammarly?’ If you’re good at spelling, you’re not going to embarrass yourself like misspelling a word in front of your boss,” she said.  

She is the daughter of Dr. Swapna Bemalgi and Dr. Yugandhar Manda. Her five-year-old sister is Reya.

Aanvi will find out at the end of April or May if she will move up from her alternate status to represent at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but until then, you can find her practicing her skills for a comeback in 2022.