| Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Clovis Municipal Schools, Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy writes an education column, published weekly by the Eastern New Mexico News and featured on www.clovis-schools.org.
SPELLING BEE SEASON
by Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy
December 18, 2019
Several years ago, spelling bees were revitalized through the efforts at our elementary schools, headed up by Deborah Westbrook and Shalei Bennett, principals at Lockwood and Zia, respectively.
Spelling bees are a uniquely American phenomenon and, in some form or fashion, have been around since the mid-18th century. Benjamin Franklin recommended spelling competitions as community recreation for both children and adults. While the Brits were primarily concerned with “proper” pronunciation, the Americans focused on the correct spelling of words.
The term “bee” came into use in the mid-1870s to describe a community social event, for example, quilting bee. Spelling bees as competitive community events have even been included in novels and short stories, such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
The national spelling bee has been officially held since 1925, and, interestingly, continues in popularity. In fact, the final rounds are broadcast nationally on ESPN.
An article in the Smithsonian maintains that we love spelling bees because “they embody the ideal of American meritocracy.” Victory is within anyone’s grasp, depending upon the degree of work, practice, and perseverance.
Our local spelling bees invite school staff as well as community members to serve as judges, and I’ve had the honor of participating as judge for many years. I deliberately describe the activity as an honor, because, without exception, it is a delight. Typically held in the school’s large, multipurpose room, the audience is made up of students from multiple grade levels, parents, teachers, and other community members. Competing students sit in a group of chairs at the front, and each steps to the microphone to spell the word given.
With pin-drop silence throughout, there is an excitement and tension in the air that is contagious. Watching the faces of not only the competitors, but the younger students in the audience is priceless. Experiencing the uniform gasps of disappointment when a student misspells their word, along the spontaneous cheering and applause when a student spells the increasingly difficult words somehow unites us all in that moment.
Elimination hurts, and there are always tears, but, somehow, we realize it’s a good thing that students come to care so passionately about this event and its challenges.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee maintains its purpose is to improve students’ spelling, increase vocabularies, and learn concepts an develop correct English usage. I believe it’s more: it’s an intense event that heightens character and emotions and draws us together.
Long live the spelling bee!