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A powerhouse: Omaha Marian High School wins another vocabulary state championship

A powerhouse: Omaha Marian High School wins another vocabulary state championship
Susan Rosenlof
Students practice vocabulary in app

Story by Dan Crisler | Omaha World-Herald | Feb. 8, 2024

It’s a quantifiable fact: Marian High School students know the most words among Nebraska’s schools.

The Catholic school in central Omaha was recently named the Nebraska state champions for the fall edition of the Vocabulary Bowl organized by Nearly two dozen Nebraska schools competed in the competition.

That’s not an unusual occurrence — the all-girls school has been part of the Nebraska state championship in the Vocabulary Bowl since the school started teaching the curriculum in 2019 at the direction of English teacher and department chair Susie Sisson.

That established track record did not temper the students’ enthusiasm for winning the most recent competition. A press release noted Marian students collectively mastered all definitions of 10,791 words. Students were clapping and screaming after they found out the news.

“Our class was so psyched about it,” said freshman Adele Tompsett.

Freshmen and sophomores make up the school’s approximately 300 participants in the Vocabulary Bowl. Although participating is a class requirement, many freshmen go above and beyond to boost their metrics through the app.

Each student’s success is measured by points. The more consecutive words a student gets right, the more their points multiply. Bonuses for mastering a word boost that total even further.

The school’s top vocabulary performer, freshman Vandana Santhanam, has tallied more than 4 million points since August. Santhanam has spent more than 71 hours learning and mastering more than 1,000 words. She spends about 30 to 60 minutes per day learning new words through the app after she comes home from school.

Initially, Vandana wanted to beat her twin sister, Vasudha. Once Vandana surpassed Vasudha, she just kept going.

“It got more fun as you get more points,” Vandana said.

A similar spirit of competition enveloped the students. But they never let competition get in the way of collaboration.

“We’re all striving for one thing, which was winning this competition,” said Madison Schnell.

“We know what we want to achieve,” Tala Alkahaleel said. “We’re all doing this together.”

Rewards for the Vocabulary Bowl mostly consist of bragging rights. Individual students received stickers for achieving milestones. Freshman student McKinley Fritz said students receive small gift certificates to Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, which has a restaurant within walking distance from the school at 72nd Street and Military Avenue, if they reach 1 million points.

“I was trying to make a goal of myself to do a million points by the end of the first semester,” Fritz said.

Ivy Piotrowski found that the Vocabulary Bowl and the quizzes related to it is the most impactful way for her to learn new words.

“I’ll read books but I don’t take a lot of vocab from those books,” she said. “(Through Vocabulary Bowl) I’ve learned a lot.”

With Marian High School firmly entrenched as a vocabulary powerhouse in Nebraska, Sisson expressed some aspirations in seeing students of the school of about 590 students compete among similarly-sized schools around the country.

“I think that would be exciting,” she said.

In the meantime, Marian will continue to cement its at the top of the Nebraska leaderboards.

The school is already off to a strong start for the spring edition of the Vocabulary Bowl. Through Thursday afternoon, Marian is the top-performing school in the state with students having mastered 658 words.