The auditorium at Allen Frear Elementary School was packed with students, parents and staff from across the Caesar Rodney School District on Tuesday night. The crowd had turned out for the district-wide spelling bee, where fourth through eighth graders competed by grade level to determine who would become the spelling champion.
“I think the spelling bee is important because it offers students an opportunity to show school pride and helps them learn good sportsmanship,” said Kris Falling, whose daughter Mia Ritchey qualified as an alternate for the Allen Frear team.
In order for students to make it to the district bee, they first had to compete on a class level and then on a school-wide level.
The spelling bee is a chance for students to give their competitive side a work out but, like so many other things in childhood, it’s also educational.
“It all comes down to reading and comprehension,” said Derek Prillaman, assistant to the superintendent. “Being able to understand terms gives students a strong foundation in spelling.”
To give the night an added element of suspense, the judges randomly drew grade levels to determine the order the spelling bee. By random luck of the draw the eighth graders were up first. The first word of the bee was “business.”
After a tough competition, the final two students left standing were Megan Buckley and Katie Wright. It was a tight race with both girls stumbling over the word “fuselage,” but Wright came out on top.
This wasn’t Wright’s first win at the district level. She has been participating in the bee since she was in sixth grade. She has won every year since. The middle-schooler chalks her winning up to advanced reading material.
“I like to read more advanced books and they have harder words,” she said. “I’m reading ‘Les Miserables’ right now. It’s pretty hard.”
In the fifth-grade competition, Kathy DeLong, the moderator and pronouncer of the words for the event tasked the students with spelling words like “intervals” and “beneath.” Eventually the competition narrowed down to Meghana Yarlagdda and Noah Foster. It was a nail biter, with both contestants tripping over the word “peninsula,” but Meghana won it all with the word “fabulous.”
The seventh graders kicked off their portion of the bee with the word “atlas,” and after words like “glacier” and “absurd” it was down to two: Jasirah Rasheed and Ella Wisniewski, Wisniewski walking away with her third district win.
Page 2 of 2 - “I started competing when I was in fourth grade,” she said. “I like reading and learning new words. This just shows that if you read a lot and try hard, you can win.”
Ella said she practiced by printing off word lists and spelling them with her mom, who is a librarian at Ella’s school, Postlethwait Middle School.
The final contestants in the fourth-grade portion, Mahlon Dyer and Jake Merkle, both were a bit surprised by the word “possession,” Merkle pulled it off for the win.
“He got a lot of help preparing from his brother John,” said Andy Merkle, Jake’s father. “He would challenge Jake to word quizzes.”
According to Andy, Jake’s reward for winning would be ice cream.
The sixth graders wrapped up the night. They were up against words such as “biscuit” and “subterranean.” Alysha Siddiqi and Declan Callahan were the last two standing, but Callahan came out on top. He said “tambourine” was one of the toughest words he faced.
“I felt speechless,” he said. “I’ve never been a part of something this big. It was like I had won the Olympics.”