A home-schooled Chester County eighth grader is one of 45 National Spelling Bee contestants who will compete in today's nationally broadcast semifinals - and possibly tonight's prime-time finals.

Meghan Reynolds, 14, of Landenberg, spelled

duende

correctly in the fourth and last of yesterday's preliminary rounds of the 81st annual bee in Washington to qualify for today's competition.

Duende means the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm, according to Merriam-Webster online.

"She really wanted to make it to the TV round, which she's accomplished," said Meghan's mother, Kim Reynolds. "All the rest is icing on the cake."

Also reaching the semifinals was Jahnavi Iyer, 14, of Enola, Pa., outside Harrisburg. The eighth grader successfully spelled

trochophore

(a type of marine larva) to remain in contention.

The semifinals will be televised on ESPN, starting at 11 a.m.; the finals will be at 8 p.m. on ABC.

The champion will take home cash prizes totaling $35,000 plus a $2,500 savings bond, reference works, and an engraved trophy. All contestants receive smaller cash prizes and other keepsakes.

A record 288 participants - 153 girls and 135 boys, ages 8 to 15 - began the day yesterday in the bee at the Grand Hyatt Washington, and each received his or her one guaranteed moment in the spotlight during an initial round.

There was the familiar mix of moments comical and nerve-racking as the spellers tackled words such as

ambuscade

(ambush) and

Manhattanese

(English spoken by Manhattan residents).

"Can you use it in a song?" queried Marie Mach of Dumfries, Va., 12, when presented with the word

espousal

.

"You really don't want me to," pronouncer Jacques Bailly replied with a chuckle. "I can't sing."

The girl misspelled the word, guessing

e-s-p-o-w-s-e-l.

In onstage rounds yesterday, Meghan also correctly spelled

nuptiality

(the marriage rate) and

shiatsu

(acupressure).

She is quite familiar with spelling-bee battles, since last year, the Avon Grove School District initially ruled her ineligible for a county bee because she is home-schooled.

That decision was reversed after her parents, some neighbors and two state senators protested. She also won an elementary-school bee the year before.

Of the 288 initial bee contestants, 36 are home-schooled. About two-thirds, or 190, attend public schools.

Two contestants - Tia Thomas, 13, of Coarsegold, Calif., and Matthew C. Evans, 13, of Albuquerque, N.M. - are competing in the national bee for the fifth time. Both advanced to the semifinals.

The bee is administered by the E.W. Scripps Co. and 280 sponsors in the United States, American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Ghana, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Could you make the cut? See more at the bee's Web site via

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

This article includes information from the Associated Press.