Jenith Mishne, director of education technology for Newport-Mesa Unified, helps Rubi Delgado Solis, 9, a third-grader at Rea Elementary School, get started on the Qwerty Kids Keyboard Challenge, a typing competition on Monday at the district offices in Costa Mesa. The district is replacing its annual spelling bee with the keyboarding challenge to encourage kids to master typing and computer skills. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / June 9, 2014)

Emma Wang's fingers danced across the keyboard with the speed and accuracy of a highly skilled word processor.

On a good day, the sixth-grader from Newport Coast Elementary School said, she can type more than 100 words per minute with fairly good accuracy.

On Monday morning, during Newport-Mesa Unified's first Qwerty keyboarding competition, Wang typed 83 words per minute with 93% accuracy. Although it was the highest score in the competition, Wang said she was having an off day.

"I was kind of nervous when I stepped into the room," she said. "I wasn't really doing well today."

Still, parents and district staff members gasped when Wang's score was read aloud. She handily won her grade level.

Sixteen Newport-Mesa Unified students, including Wang, participated in Monday's championship round of the Qwerty keyboarding challenge at the school district offices in Costa Mesa.

The Qwerty competition, named after the type of keyboard used in the challenge, was created this school year to replace the district's annual spelling bee, which had been plagued by declining participation in recent years, said Jenith Mishne, the district's director of education technology.

"It's not that spelling isn't important, because it is," Mishne said. "But spelling is really a thing of the past."

Because typing and computer skills are emphasized more than ever before in the new Common Core State Standards curriculum, district officials thought a keyboarding contest would make a good substitute for the spelling bee.

"Technology isn't going away," Mishne said. "Building these skills at this age will make the rest of the time they spend in school so much easier."

The district launched the typing club in October, which was the first time Newport-Mesa students had access to typing software at school and at home, Mishne said.

After several months of practice, each school hosted a typing challenge for students in grades 3 through 6. In May, each of the district's four zones hosted a second challenge. Four students from each zone advanced to the final championship round at the district offices.

Students had six minutes to complete the typing exercise. The software ranked their accuracy and words typed per minute:

• Lincoln Elementary School student George Bruening ranked first in the third-grade category, typing 30 words per minute with 90% accuracy.

• Andersen Elementary School student Matt Blum ranked first in the fourth-grade category, typing 62 words per minute with 99% accuracy.

• Katrina Kostrukoff, a California Elementary School student, won the fifth grade category, typing 65 words per minute with 92% accuracy.

The Harbor Council Parent Teacher Assn. gave each winner a $100 gift card to Barnes & Noble.

Anastasia Everding, a fifth-grader at Newport Heights Elementary School, has been practicing typing with her parents all year in preparation for the competition.

While she was nervous to compete against the district's best typists, she was excited to make it to the final round.

"I wanted to be able to compete and be one of the top typists in the school," she said.