Marly Santora, a seventh-grader at Komarek School in North Riverside, will be one of 275 students heading to Washington, D.C., in June to compete in the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee.

On Feb. 17 Santora, 12, won the Regional Spelling Bee held at Mannheim School in Melrose Park to qualify for the national spelling bee. She is the first Komarek student to ever qualify for the event.

“Getting to go to Washington is going to be fun,” Santora said, adding that it will be her first trip to the nation’s capital.

At the regional spelling, bee it came down to Santora and eighth-grader Amal Mir of the Aqsa Islamic School in Bridgeview in the final round.

After Mir misspelled a word, Santora correctly spelled the obscure word “desiccant,” which means a drying agent.

“I think I’d heard it before, but I wasn’t sure about how to spell it so I kind of tried to figure it out,” Santora said.

Her reaction when she won?

“Mostly surprised,” Santora said. “I’ve never gotten past the district bee before. I was happy that I was going to nationals.”

The regional competition lasted for nearly two hours and the pressure built as competitors were gradually eliminated.

“I was getting nervous,” Santora said. “As the words got harder and harder, I was hoping that I didn’t get one I didn’t know.”

Komarek School Principal Tom Criscione, who was at the regional competition to cheer on Santora, said she handled the pressure well, but could he tell that she was getting nervous when it got down to her and Mir.

“She looked like she was having fun up there,” Criscione said. “It was like she had ice in her veins until then.”

Santora won a district spelling bee on Feb. 10 to qualify for the regional spelling bee.

She has represented Komarek at the district spelling bee since winning the Komarek School spelling bee for the first time as a third-grader. She has won every Komarek spelling bee since then, except for last year, when she was bested by her sister, Audrey, who is now a fourth-grader at Komarek.

How did it feel to lose to her little sister last year?

“It was all right,” Santora said. “She’s my sister. I was proud of her. I didn’t study as hard that year. I just didn’t know the words.”

It takes a lot of studying to win a spelling bee. Santora works with her mother, Linda, reviewing words from a guide called Spell-It that Scripps puts out.

“She quizzes me,” Santora said.

She usually studies on her own, but sometimes, like any kid, she has to be reminded to study.

“Sometimes my mom has to tell me, but most of the time I just start studying,” Santora said.

Santora says that she studies words a few days a week typically for about 30 minutes at a time.

Knowing the language that a word is derived from helps, Santora says.

“Knowing the language of origin definitely helps, because there are some patterns that each language has that you have to know to be able to spell those words,” Santora said.

In school Santora’s favorite subjects are science and math. In addition to competing in spelling bees, Santora also participates in gymnastics and plays the violin.