Having a way with words

A Fremont Elementary School fifth-grader took home the top prize Monday night after out-spelling 19 other students at the Glendale Unified School District’s Elementary School Spelling Bee Finals.

Leah Kemp, 10, of Glendale was awarded a trophy, a Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and $50 for being the top speller.

In a spell-off round, Leah went up against Alexandria Chwierut, a Lincoln Elementary School sixth-grader. But Leah came out on top after she consecutively spelled two words — “coax” and “souvenir” — correctly.

The moments after the spell-off remained tense as the judges tabulated points and made sure the rules were followed during the final round before Assistant Supt. Katherine Fundukian announced Leah as the champion.

Leah was surprised by the win and thought $50 “kind of seemed like a bit much.”

“I am kind of nervous,” she said.

But Monday’s competition wasn’t the first for Leah, who competed in last year’s districtwide elementary school competition. Leah comes from a family of spelling bee champions, said her mother, Anne Beachey-Kemp.

“I am super excited for her,” said Beachey-Kemp, who noted that she and her mother were also spelling bee winners in school.

Leah studied for the spelling bee, but most of her spelling prowess comes naturally, her mother said.

Fremont Principal Cynthia Livingston also acknowledged Leah’s talent in spelling, adding that she “can spell the pants off anyone.”

“She’s a natural,” Livingston said.

Leah is Fremont’s first winner at the district spelling bee, Livingston said.

“Leah is an amazing student,” she said.

In order to qualify for the district spelling bee, the students had to win spelling bees at their elementary schools, which were held in the past two months, Fundukian said.

“They really are all winners when they get to this place,” Fundukian said. “It’s a big deal.”

Once the students qualified for the district spelling bee, they were given a list of words that were used during the competition.

As students were eliminated during the spelling bee, which Soroptimist International of Glendale also sponsored, the word list was abandoned and they were given words that were not on the list.

The last two spellers had to compete to win during a spell-off.

Leah took first place, Alexandria got second, fifth-grader  Audrey Josephbeg of R.D. White Elementary School and sixth-grader Erika Shin of Edison Elementary School tied for third, fourth-grader Joshua Choi of Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School got fourth, and sixth-grader Sarah Brockway of Glenoaks Elementary School took fifth.

 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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