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The Spelling Rock Stars

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Win 18 FEBRUARY 11, 2019 –On Friday, Brendan Hooper, who is in the seventh grade at Jefferson Middle, won the District Spelling Bee.

Caroline Downs, who is sixth-grader at Hanes Magnet Middle, placed second.

Emily Lin, who is in the eighth grade at Meadowlark Middle, placed third.

Brendan’s parents, Michael and MacKenzie Hooper, were among many parents on hand.

“I am so proud of him,” MacKenzie Hooper said.

“I’m very proud,” Michael Hooper said.

The winning word was “Beetewk,” a Russian breed of heavy draft horses.

It was clearly Brendan’s day. On another day, he wouldn’t have known the word, he said after the bee. As it happened, though, on the way over to bee he had continued to go over lists of possible words.

Spell 13 “He was studying the whole way here,” his mother said.

And there “Beetwek” was.

“It was the last word I looked at before I walked in here,” he said.

Fifty-eight students in third through eighth grade participated in the District Spelling Bee.

The bee was held in the Education Building. As students came in, the Spelling Bee greeted them. On days when she’s not the Spelling Bee, the person inside the costume – Carrie Linville – is the Instructional Coach for High School English Language Arts. And, on days when the costume is not the Spelling Bee, it serves as the Yellow Jacket mascot for Carver High School.

With the day being about words, asking people whether they have a favorite word seemed like a good question. Linville’s favorite word is “shenanigans,” in part because it’s fun to say.               

When students registered, they were invited to pull a number from an envelope. The number they picked determined the order in which they would spell.

Spell 12 The first student to arrive was Ason Boyd, a third-grader at Easton Elementary. There to cheer him on were his mother, Nancy Bellous, his aunt, Krystal Gaither, and grandmother, Teresa Gaither, who is the Technologist at Easton.

Asked what makes Ason special, his mother said, “He is very caring. He is very smart.”

“He is always willing to help,” said his aunt.

“When he sets his mind to something, he goes for it,” his grandmother said.

Ason drew No. 18.

The next student to arrive was Johnathon Storrey, a fifth-grader at Brunson Elementary. He drew No. 54.

One way Johnathon studies for spelling bees is to look through dictionaries.

“In my class, we have a big dictionary,” Johnathon said. “I like to read it a lot.”

Spell 11  His favorite word is “miscellaneous.”

Johnathon was there with his twin sister, Jessica, and parents, Cassandra Storrey and David Gordon-Wright.

He’s a great son, Storrey said. “He will never give up. He always wants to know every single thing he possibly can. He has been reading the dictionary since he was 5. He taught himself to read.”

Malak Elazab, who is in the third grade at Ward Elementary, drew No. 50. She was a little nervous, she said, but also looking forward to the bee because she likes to spell.

“I like it because it gives you the feeling you are doing something good,” Malak said. “Also, it is fun to compete.”

When asked whether she had a favorite word, she “All of the words are my favorite words.”

Well, she added, except for the bad words you’re never supposed to use. And she doesn’t.

Words come naturally to Malak, said her parents Mohamed Elazab and Rana Alkhatib. She started talking early on and first read when she was 3½.

One day, Malak would like to become an astronomer who also travels to other planets.

Spell 32 When Michael Dawes, who is in the fifth grade at Vienna, put his hand in the envelope, he drew out No. 1, which meant that he would be the first student to spell. It was Michael’s first time in the District Bee, He was looking forward to participating but wasn’t sure how he felt about being the first one.

One of the things he likes about studying for a spelling bee is you learn new words, and some of those words come in handy when it’s time to write something. He likes writing, and he likes reading, especially about history and animals. His favorite animal is the tapir, which lives in the forests of Central and South America.

The ability to spell and a love of words and of reading runs in the family. There with Michael was sister, Darshina, was the fourth-grade champion at Vienna, and their mother, Ann Dawes, who is a Reading Interventionist for the school system.    

With her brother moving on to middle school next year, Darshina hopes to be the school champion at Vienna.

Spell 36 For some students, the word that made them the champion speller at their school became their favorite word. That was the case for Jordan Cunningham, who is in the third grade at Gibson Elementary. “Extricate” was the winning word.

Besides being a good speller, said his mother, Belinda Cunningham, he is fun to be around.

“He has a great sense of humor,” she said.

Principal Glenn Starnes II of Gibson was also on hand to cheer on Jordan.

Charley Einstein, who is in the third grade at Whitaker Elementary, won the school’s spelling bee with the word “espionage.” So, for now, that’s her favorite word.

One day, Charley would like to become a teacher so she can help other young people as they learn.

“I really like learning,” she said.

Her brother, Thomas, who is in the fifth grade was Whitaker, was there to cheer her on, along with their parents, Chip and Amy Einstein.

Spell 38 When her mother talked about what makes their daughter special, she said, “She has a lot of love.”

“I think she has a zest for life,” said her father. “She is kind, sweet, funny.”

Yuridia Noyola Olmedo, who is in the sixth grade at John F. Kennedy, chose “outgoing” as her favorite word because she likes its meaning.

“I believe a lot of people can be outgoing,” she said.

In her own life, she makes a point to reach out.

“If I see something sad, I ask them what is wrong. I try help them out,” Yuridia said.

For a career, she would like to become a therapist so she can help other people.

Marley Via, who is the Instructional Facilitator at Kennedy, was there with Yuridia.

“She is very charismatic,” Via said. “I don’t think I have ever seen her meet a stranger. She is always smiling.”

Spell 40 Jamir Wilkins, who is in the fourth grade at South Fork Elementary, likes the word “believe” because of its meaning.

“I always believe in myself,” Jamir said.

Aaron Sandidge, who is in the fourth grade at Cook Literacy Model School, thinks there are so many great words that he couldn’t say he has a favorite regular word. He does like the word “Spider-Man” because Spider-Man is his favorite the super hero.

As for studying for the spelling bees, he keeps at it.

“I study at school – I study at home,” Aaron said.

Aaron’s younger brother, Corbyn, who is in the second grade at Cook, was there with their uncle, Brandon Sandidge-Brodie to support Aaron. 

“I am very proud of him,” Sandidge-Brodie said.

Brady Vallance, who is in the fifth grade at Clemmons Elementary, likes the different ways that words sound. He is fond of “grandiose” because that was his winning word. When it comes to a favorite day-to-day, though, his favorite word would have to be “basketball” because he wants to become a point guard on a professional basketball team one day.

Spell 43 The day brought a bonus for Brady’s older brother, Ethan, who is now in the seventh grade at Clemmons Middle. When Ethan won the Clemmons Elementary bee when he was a fourth-grader there, they didn’t give out trophies.

Now that Wendy Brewington is principal, they do give out trophies. So, when she came to the District Bee to cheer on, Brady, she brought a trophy for Ethan to the District Bee.

Their father, Chris Vallance, said he would have to give his wife, Erin, credit for their sons’ spelling gene.

“I have to give her credit on that,” he said. “They get their competitiveness from me and smartness from her.”

They’re good boys, he said. “They are kind, loving, giving. They both have great spirit.”

Both also respect those who serve and join him in thanking and shaking the hand of every officer and person in the military they come upon.

“They are both super special,” Erin Vallance said.

Spell 47 When it was time for the practice round to start, all of the spellers headed to the chair with their number on it. Melissa Agee, the school system’s Program Manager for Secondary English Language Arts, welcomed everyone and answered students’ questions.

Agee introduced the pronouncer – Chris Runge, the Station Manager for Cable 2 – and the judges – Kelley Bendheim, the Early Learning Coordinator; Velvet Simington, the Director for Mathematics; Jackie Pierson, the Program Manager for Media Services.

Agee went over the rules in English. Anna Posada, the Instructional Coach for Middle School Mathematics, went over the rules in Spanish.

After a practice round with such simple words as “dog” and “cat” to give the students a chance to get comfortable with such logistics as raising or lowering the microphone when the speller before them was taller or shorter, everyone took a break.

When it was time for the official round to start at 10 a.m., Superintendent Beverly Emory congratulated the students for being the champions at Spell 49 their schools.

“That means you are rock stars already in this entire school system,” Emory said.

Nearly 400 words and three hours later, Brendon Hooper was declared the winner by correctly spelling “Beetewk.”   



Kim Underwood