Rebecca Christian: The Star Coach of the District's Spelling Bee

3/28/2013, 1:30 p.m.

Rebecca Christian stands a little over five feet tall, but she's a giant. Since 2010, she has steered two students from a District charter school in the winner-take-all spelling bee competition in the District of Columbia.

Christian beamed as she witnessed her eighth-grade student, Donovan Rolle, trounce 32 other District students to be named the top speller at the 31st Annual Washington Informer Spelling Bee on March 9, at the NBC4 studios in Northwest.

"It's a culmination of his hard work and effort," said Christian, 45, a reading specialist at Howard University Middle School for Math and Science in Northwest. She also serves as the spelling bee coach, and helps in other literary areas, she said.

This was Donovan's second victory. In 2011, when he was in the sixth grade, he won the citywide spelling bee, again under Christian's tutelage.


The Washington Informer's 31st Annual Spelling Bee

Donovan's mother, Stenise Rolle Sanders, said one shouldn't "underestimate the significance of a good coach." Christian countered, that it's a partnership among parents, teachers, the students and everyone involved in the child's life.

In 2010, Christian led then-eighth-grader Avery Coffey to a win in the District's bee. He placed second in 2008 and 2009.

"It puts another spin on African-American males as scholars," said Christian about her two winners. "The boys I've met have been stellar. With two black males in an urban setting, it's a powerful image. "

Christian has surpassed other District spelling bee coaches with the most wins, said The Washington Informer advertising and marketing director, Ron Burke. She's become the "winningest" coach.

On the walls of her classroom at the middle school on Howard University's campus, are large, brightly colored posters and billboards featuring English and grammar notes. One features various literary genres, another highlights personal writing tips.

The Long Island, N.Y., native feels strongly about her role in the after-school spelling club, an entity she created in 2008 when she took over the coaching.

"Spelling is not emphasized generally in schools," said Christian who earned a master's degree in education. "So we find kids who aren't proficient in spelling, which translates to other areas; and then it shows up later when they're filling out job applications and writing college essays. Too many of them aren't getting the education they need in spelling and vocabulary."

She said the secret to winning the spelling bee is hard work by the student. How Donovan does at the Scripps National Spelling Bee which begins May 28 to May 30, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md., is "up to Donovan," she explained.

"One good thing about Donovan is he's consistent," said Christian, a mother of three. "I can measure the efforts to see what needs to be done."

Right now, she's working with him to better his chances this time at the nationals. She's using the unabridged dictionary she won at the local bee, and all they're doing is practicing.

She said the work he's doing will help him, and the other students, in the long run.

"Spelling expands their knowledge [of] the English language, and that's vital," Christian added. "It helps with discipline as the children have to practice to demonstrate mastery; and it gives confidence as they realize they can learn new things on their own."