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Woodbury word girl makes Red Rock proud

Juliana Vlcek, 9, shares a laugh with her teacher Tammy Yourczek at Red Rock Elementary School. Vlcek is one out of only nine 3rd graders in the country to score a perfect 20 on the WordMasters Challenge, a vocabulary course that is given three times a year. Each session concludes with a multiple-choice test where students must choose the right word to complete an analogy. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Juliana Vlcek is to words as Winnie the Pooh is to honey.

Such an analogy just might suit this spirited 9-year-old, who never met a word she didn’t like. Vlcek is one of only nine third graders in the country to post a perfect score on a national vocabulary competition called the WordMasters Challenge.

She’s a student at Red Rock Elementary School, where the WordMasters Challenge is taught three times a year.

“Basically you have these words people don’t use very often,” Vlcek said. “You go with a group of people and study them.”

At each WordMasters session, the class learns 25 new words and discusses their meaning with third-grade teacher Tammy Yourczek. Then comes a multiple-choice test, which requires them to complete 20 analogies.

A sample question: “person” is to “slender” as “road” is to a: narrow b: dark c. crumbling d. wide or e. curved.

“They have to know the relationships between the words,” Yourczek said. “They have to know the forms of the words.”

Vlcek got 20 out of 20 on December’s test. And she did so in the tricky Gold Division.

“The Gold Division is suitable for students who have clearly superior language abilities such as those in gifted and talented programs,” according to the WordMasters website.

It’s not always obvious which of the five multiple choices are correct, Yourczek said. Some questions are almost right.

It’s hard to put one over on this kid. She knows that an onomatopoeia is not a big, green, long nosed creature in a Dr. Seuss book — it’s a word that sounds like the thing it describes. Mention a lion in a jungle, and she’ll remind you that lions actually make their homes in a savannah. She speaks in short, breathless bursts about her love of books.

“When I was little I would go and pull a book off of our library bookshelf and I would walk over to mom and dad and say, ‘Read! Read!’” she said.

Racking up one of only nine perfect scores in the country is no mean feat, WordMaster president Lisa Kennedy said.

“This was a hard test,” Kennedy said. “I would say that she was one of nine in over 5,000 students in her division.

“The advantage of using analogies is not only are the students being exposed to challenging vocabulary, but they’re having to use critical thinking and reading skills to solve analogies.”

Vlcek, who also won a WordMasters Challenge last year, lives in Woodbury with her parents Catherine and James and sister Sara, 6.

“My mother literally has to separate me from my books to do other things,” she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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