ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Can you spell better than a fifth grader? It’s not exactly like the hit television show, though. One Ortiz Elementary student is making history through her preparation and memorization, leading her to become the first student at Ortiz Elementary to make the SCRIPPS national finals spelling bee.

Sariah Titus began her preparation in December and this was the first time she’s ever begun working towards a competitive spelling competition.

It started out as a class to find hidden talents, but for Titus, spelling was a gift she said she was given since birth.

The Ortiz Elementary fifth-grader is now three to four months into her preparation, winning the Big Country Spelling Bee and punching her ticket to the national competition in May.

However this time Titus is preparing for the potential 450-word list, beginning with pencil on paper.

“I write them down because it helps you spell it better,” Sariah said, “It’s like a clear visual of the word in your head.”

It’s committing those 450 words, their meanings and origins to memory that makes her a great spelling bee competitor. She is learning words, even ones that people typically do not use in everyday vocabulary.

The regional competition saw her take home the crown after her competitors couldn’t correctly spell words like ‘asylum’ and ‘superlative.’ Sariah won it by correctly spelling ‘harumph.’ H-A-R-U-M-P-H, meaning to clear your throat loudly.

“I saw it on my list, but never before that,” Sariah shared. KTAB/KRBC asked her if she had ever used ‘harumph’ before or will ever use the word again, she replied: “No, well, maybe sometime.”

It’s learning words like ‘harumph’ and her toughest word to date, ‘dietetic,’ that have helped her reach the top and become the first Ortiz Elementary schooler ever to reach the national competition.

KTAB/KRBC told Sariah she was the first to do it and this was her response.

“I am surprised, honestly, because I never knew that I was the first one, the first one to ever do this,” Sariah said.

Carmen Crane, principal of Ortiz Elementary, said she couldn’t be more proud of Sariah, calling her a high achiever and A+ student.

Even though Crane wasn’t able to attend the regional spelling bee to take care of the kiddos of her own, she was filled with joy when she heard the news of Sariah’s win.

“Sariah’s story just starts here. This year is going to take her to Washington DC, but her story is going to take her so many places and one day, I hope she looks back on her time at Ortiz and sees the people who invested in her and were champions for her,” Crane expressed.

Crane emphasized how Sariah and many other students are helping lead the academic charge at Ortiz Elementary after a few low-scoring years on the TEA scores, ranking below average for Abilene ISD since the pandemic.

It was Crane’s goal when she first arrived at the school to improve the student success rate by empowering and celebrating her students in every facet she knew how.

“We have kids who have gifts and are so ready to achieve their very best,” Crane explained. “We just have to empower that and I think she [Sariah] is the perfect example of where Ortiz is going.” 

This is just the beginning for the bright fifth grader, who said she wants to become a cardiologist when she grows up. A lofty goal, but Crane reiterated that Sariah is more than capable of achieving any goal she puts her mind to.

That includes bringing a national spelling bee championship back to Ortiz Elementary and the Big Country in mid-May when she represents West Texas for five days in the nation’s capital.