Kayden Wilkins, a 5th-grade student at Melwood Elementary School in Prince George’s County, was crowned champion of the county’s 2018 spelling bee presented by the Washington Informer Charities on Friday.
Kayden joined 5th- through 8th-grade students representing 33 schools across the county on the stage at the Clarice Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park campus and vied for the opportunity to represent the county in the National Scripps Spelling Bee in June at National Harbor.
Pronouncer Dave Zahren, a television instructional specialist with Prince George’s County Public Schools, offered each word, along with its definition, word origin and usage, to the nervous spellers, who went eight rounds before the final word was spelled correctly.
“I am so proud of all of you,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker told the students. After sitting through the first round, Baker wished them well.
This was the first year that fifth-graders were included in the bee, said Chauka Reid, the bee’s coordinator.
Fifth-grader Andre Stewart of Bowie Montessori Children’s House was excited by his opportunity to compete.
“My grandmother and my family gave me the motivation to compete,” Stewart said.
This also marked the third year of the Washington Informer Charities’ sponsorship of the bee in Prince George’s County following the sale of the former sponsor, the Prince George’s County Gazette.
“We are excited to see so many parents and supporters of Prince George’s County’s top spellers here with us tonight,” said Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer and president of Washington Informer Charities. “Your presence helps to encourage these students who are already winners because they competed and won in their respective schools.”
Rolark Barnes commended Reid as “a committed, hardworking and dedicated proponent of the spelling bee and a strong advocate for the children enrolled in the Prince George’s County Schools.”
The auditorium was filled with spelling coaches, family members and sponsors including Tracye Funn of Washington Gas, Apera Nwora of AltaGas, Vic Samuels of Educational Systems Federal Credit Union and Toni Lewis of FAME. Other sponsors and partners included Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Comcast, Giant, Safeway Foundation, Merriam-Webster, Washington National, Six Flags, Champion Trophies, Silver Spring Signarama, the Baysox and The Clarice.
“Education is so important today and to find avenues and opportunities for young people to learn in a fun, innovative and meaningful way is a wonderful thing,” Funn said. “We applaud The Informer for having been the longtime sponsor of the event which we have been a supporter of for many years.”
When Kayden approached the mic to spell his winning word “cambio,” he exemplified maturity and confidence beyond his young years. Zahren announced him the champion and in a flash, his his younger brother raced to the stage to give him a huge hug.
Ron Burke, advertising and marketing director for The Washington Informer, proudly presented four roundtrip tickets to any destination Southwest Airlines flies to the first-place winner and his family.
Kayden’s mother and father told the audience that their son’s success comes from his love for books with began when he was in kindergarten.
“We are very proud of him,” they said.
Three contestants finished in a tie for second place after seven rounds. They are: Inioluwa Olaniyan, 7th grade, Judith P. Hoyer Montessori School; Alyssa Burgos, 7th grade, Holy Redeemer School; and Olivia Allen, 8th grade, St. Mary’s of the Mills School.
In addition to a bee-themed gift basket provided by Educational Systems Federal Credit Union, the participants will meet again at the Washington Nationals-Colorado Rockies game on April 14 where the winners will be honored on the field at home plate prior to the game.