Wordsmiths battle to the final stinger

16 students compete in district-wide bee

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Elsa Robinson knew she would be the next Juneau School District Spelling Bee champion when she heard the word "fatigues" read aloud Wednesday night.

"I just felt like I knew it," said the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School seventh-grader.

She did, and she even provided the three judges with the word's definition.

"I did it just to make sure it was the right word that I was thinking of," she said.

Robinson advances to the Alaska State Spelling Bee March 30-31 in Anchorage.

The top two students from each elementary and middle school spelling bee gathered in the Floyd Dryden Middle School library Wednesday evening for the annual districtwide spelling bee. Each student was given their own word every round and required to spell it without beginning over. The field of 16 student-spellers whittled itself down by single-elimination until it came down to Auke Bay Elementary School fifth-grader Spencer Lunda and Robinson for the capital's premier wordsmith.

Words ranged from "general" to "decent," "elegant" to "ornate."

bee words

winning word: fatigues

elimination words: undertow; administer; anklet; jewel; formally; salinity; malignant; superlative; torpid; shriek; tempestuous; fascism; *recitalist.

The rules changed a bit in the finals, with the champion required to spell both the opponent's incorrect word as well as one final word. Lunda was up first, drawing the word "recitalist" before drawing a blank.

"I didn't know what it means, even when I got the definition," said Lunda, who made his third straight appearance in the district competition.

Robinson fired off the correct spelling and it took eight more letters for the championship. She said she really wanted to win because the boys seemed to have stronger numbers in the final round.

"I think girls are kind of underestimated," Robinson said.

Her mother, Valerie Robinson, said the spelling bee is a fun and different way to inspire kids to learn.

"It's fun to see her win, but if she didn't I would be just equally as proud," she said.

Spelling bee judge and Floyd Dryden Middle School librarian Pat McLear said the event is one of many academic opportunities in the district for the students to let their lights shine a little brighter.

"It's tough to be up here in front of a crowd," McLear said. "I think those kids did a great job to take a deep breath and step up and recite the word how they thought it was spelled. And it's great to be on this side of the table so you can see all the expressions on their faces."

Emcee Mary Capobianco said it takes a lot of hard work to prepare for the spelling bee and a lot of composure to perform.

"It takes a lot," said Capobianco, a seventh-grade language arts and geography teacher at Floyd Dryden. "You see some of these kids and you know they're shaking in their boots, but they're doing it."

She said the bee is a way of standing out for students who might not have the athletic prowess of their peers.

"I just think it's another opportunity for them to excel at something other than sports," she said. "I think it's another way for the larger community to say we value things like this. We value opportunities for students to shine if different ways."

"There are some kids who might excel in an athletic performance or singing or an instrument," McLear said. "It just gives every kid an opportunity to find their niche and to be a star."

Robinson said she will work hard to prepare for the state spelling bee by practicing with a spelling book. She said her strategy is to work on the advanced words so the easier ones won't be as much of a surprise.

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