D.C. Students Prepare for National Spelling Bee

Dorothy Rowley | 1/27/2014, 2:59 p.m.
Students in schools across the country have always liked competing against each other, whether for science projects, sporting events or ...
Donovan Rolle, 13, counted among the students who aspired to hoist the Scripps National Spelling Bee's shiny, gold trophy high in the air. He was the only speller to represent the District of Columbia in the bee in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Students in schools across the country have always liked competing against each other, whether for science projects, sporting events or talent shows.

But when it looks like they're competing against a dictionary rather than among themselves, a spelling bee's most likely involved.

"So you're going to see those high-fives and students studying together," said Chris Kemper, spokesman for Ohio-based, nonprofit Scripps Spelling Bee, which will be held in May at the Gaylord Hotel and Resort in Oxon Hill, Md.

"As the calendar turns toward the new year, the Bee really kicks into high gear on a variety of levels," Kemper said. "The classroom and school spelling bees can take place as early as September. But once winter turns into the new year, a lot of them are just beginning to take place [and] that's where the excitement, energy and enthusiasm and camaraderie starts."

The Scripps Bee began in 1925 with just nine students and, except for a period during World War II, has been held each year since, with the E.W. Scripps Company assuming ownership in 1941. The headquarters, which Kemper calls the "Beehive," is located in Cincinnati.

Regarded as a form of education and entertainment, the contest helps participating students from countries such as Jamaica, Canada Ghana, and South Korea increase their vocabularies and develop a strong command of the English language. It is open to students younger than 16 who've not passed beyond 8th grade.

Kemper said that after the national contest ends in May, Scripps officials remain busy throughout the year producing word lists and study materials for the next competition.

"We estimate that each year, we have about 11 million students who participate in the spelling bees, which start in their classrooms and build up to the championship at the end of May in the District of Columbia," Kemper said.

Sharon Holmes, reading intervention manager for District of Columbia Public Schools and this year's local bee coordinator, said 71 schools from the public, charter and private sectors have registered in hopes of having their students proceed to the national finals.

"All schools registered for the Scripps Spelling Bee have an access code which allows them to enter that website for the spelling lists and everything they need to be in the bee," Holmes said. "In August, I began to get students to enter by calling schools and sending their spelling bee coordinators a handbook on the Scripps rules and other information such as the bee's purpose, history, schools' responsibilities, roles of judges and pronouncers, as well as an outline of what they should be doing in preparation."

Holmes said she also set up the dates for bees, which will be held in February at Capitol Hill Montessori School at Logan in Northeast. Each school registered for the national competition will have a bee, with the top three finishers progressing to a cluster bee on March 20.

From there, the winners advance to a contest at WRC-TV (Channel 4) on March 22, and the winners of that competition go on to the national bee.

"It's always exciting. The students love spelling and it helps with their reading as well," Holmes said. "They can't wait to get started."

The Washington Informer is among a host of longtime District sponsors that have included Verizon, McDonald's, Southwest Airlines and Giant Foods.

Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Informer, said her newspaper has been a proud sponsor for more than 30 years.

"We're happy to be part of the local contests again this year," she said. "And, while we hope to have a national winner this year, we're also proud of all our students who've participated" throughout the past three decades.