HAMMOND — The Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, operator of the Hammond children’s museum, reported Tuesday it will sponsor a 17-parish regional spelling bee leading up to the 2012 national competition in Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled to announce our sponsorship of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and offer a long-overdue opportunity for students in our region,” said Kim Walker, associate director of Discovery Center programs and events.

“Our mission is to inspire children to embrace their world through learning and play,” Walker said. “What better way than to allow them a part in the spelling bee?”

Area fourth- through eighth-graders have lacked the opportunity to advance to the national competition because the region has not had a sponsor for many years, Walker said.

The 17-parish region consists of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Lafourche, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, St. Helena, St. James, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes, she said.

The Hammond spelling bee is open to fourth- through eighth-grade students from public, parochial and home schools, Walker said.

The registration deadline is Oct. 17.

Each participating school would send one champion from its school-level bee to the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center bee in Hammond on a date yet to be announced between Feb. 1 and March 28.

The winner of the 17-parish bee will receive an all-expenses-paid trip with one adult to the nation’s capital to compete in the national spelling bee, Walker said.

The Discovery Center is asking individuals, companies or organizations interested in serving as spelling bee co-sponsors to contact Walker at (985) 340-9150.

The purpose of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is to help students improve spelling, increase vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives, Walker said.

For more information on the competition, visit http://www.spellingbee.com.

For more information on the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, 113 N. Cypress St., Hammond, call Walker at (985) 340-9150 or visit http://www.lcdcofhammond.org.