Elementary spellers tackle the 'big' words

Saturday, December 10, 2016 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Morgan Frisch/Recorder staff - The winners of the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communications spelling bee. From left, David Pacheco, Aiden Frederick, Mia Inocencio and Max Stehura.

Recorder News Staff

Sitting in the gym on the cold, plastic bleachers at Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communications brought me back to when I was in elementary school. I was here for the spelling bee, but this time I was in the audience.

My mind raced. Did they study? Would the words be hard? Are they nervous? I was, and I wasn't even participating. I just remembered when I was kid. I had only made it to the spelling bee once, but boy was I proud.

A few teachers from the school prepared the microphone. The 24 fourth- and fifth-grade students that won previous classroom rounds started filling the seating for designated spellers.

I sat with the parents. You could tell when their child entered the gym. They gave a quick smile and wave. Principal John Penman said there isn't usually this many parents in the audience. The fifth graders already took up the other portion of the bleachers, so the remaining fourth-graders sat in rows on the floor. I was happy the students came to support their classmates.

I could sense the anxiety of the spellers. Some fidgeted with their hands, others bounced their legs up and down. Luckily, they were granted a practice round. The announcer would read each word aloud and use it in a sentence. The participant was expected to repeat the word, spell it and then say the word again. This was while making eye contact with the four judges and knowing they were being watched by their parents and peers. The words in the practice round were simple. Not just for me. The students seemed to think so as well.

All 24 correctly spelled the words during this round. "On", "are" and "I" were three of the words. Everyone giggled when the participant spelled "I". Phew, I was relieved that the practice round went so well.

As the first row of students made their way to the microphone for the second time the crowd silenced. Some of the students smiled as they made their way to the front of the crowd, while others would spell the word as fast as possible without repeating it for the second time. The judges would still shake their head yes if the word was spelled correctly.

I could tell when a parent's child was competing. They scooched forward in the bleachers and gazed intently.

Sometimes students would receive homophones, or words that have the same pronunciation but different spelling. The announcer would make sure the speller was aware, but I clenched my hands together each time wondering if the slight difficulty would trip them up. I was surprised. These students knew their words. No homophone mistakes. The rounds continued.

"Aim" was the first word missed and the student made their way to sit against the wall. As more students were eliminated, the larger the line against the wall. They spelled "lava", "center" and "braid", with what seemed like such ease. Two kids even high-fived each other when they made it through the next round. It was nice to see good sportsmanship.

Next was "banana". This word got my attention. To this day, I still sing Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" to remember how many "ns" are in banana. They missed it. I probably would have too.

It was getting closer to the final round and the pressure was on. Although it must be exciting to realize they had almost made it to the final four, I couldn't imagine what the students were thinking.

A participant made their way to the microphone. Unlike other rounds, they hesitated while spelling the word. The pauses between letters worried me. But despite the hesitation, they spelled the word correctly. We were at round five and six participants remained. Four students would move forward to the district-wide spelling bee.

A girl was asking to spell "knitting". Would I have remembered the silent "k" when I was that age? She did. One person was eliminated. During round six, all five spellers made it through. Then, during round seven, there they were, the top four spellers: Aiden Frederick, David Pacheco, Mia Inocencio and Max Stehura. Max was the only fourth-grader.

They looked ecstatic. I was excited for them. I gave them a minute and ran over to ask them what they thought of the competition. They laughed and told me how extremely nervous they were.

"I almost peed my pants," Max said.

Mia was the only one of the four who had ever made it to the spelling bee before, but last year, she was so nervous that she intentionally missed school that day. This year she told herself that she had to attend.

"My mom kept telling me you got, this you got his," Mia said.

She said the words definitely got harder from round-to-round. She thought she would misspell "lodging."

Aiden said he had butterflies in his stomach. He only studied the night before and the morning of the competition.

David said he would study one-hour each day. He would spend time looking over one row of words at a time. Since I have never won a spelling bee, I was curious if success was dependent on how much they studied. But with the differences in each winners studying habits, I think it's really hard to say.

David said the hardest part of the entire competition was waiting. You sat there waiting to go next, he explained.

"You were thinking about the fact that it was your turn," David said.

His last word was "performance." David told me he didn't think he was going to spell it correctly. He overcame his nervousness, spelled the word, and made it to the next round.

The four winners will participate in the district-wide spelling bee at Wilbur Lynch Middle School on Jan. 5.

Morgan Frisch/Recorder staff - The 24 fourth and fifth grade students participating in the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communications spelling bee.