Fremont Elementary School’s Leah Kemp will not have to “coax” her fellow students into admiring the trophy “souvenir” she will be bringing back to her school for winning first place on Monday in the elementary level of the Glendale Unified District Spelling Bee.
Leah, a fifth grader, and Alexandria Chwierut, a sixth grader from Lincoln Elementary, faced each other in a spell-off as the last standing from a spelling field of 20 students strong. Leah took home the first place prize after spelling two consecutive words correctly: coax and souvenir.
All 20 elementary students placed first in their individual school spelling bee.
“These are the best of the best,” said Superintendent Michael Escalante.
This was the 33rd Annual GUSD Spelling Bee Finals; the event has been co-sponsored by Soroptimist International Glendale since 1980.
Each student had his or her own, unique way of spelling. Some would look into the air as if they saw the word, others would trace the letters across their palm and a few would whisper the word to themselves over and over again. Monte Vista fifth grader Maddie Blessinger would grab onto the microphone at times as if she were about to break in to song. Verdugo Woodlands Joshua Choi, fourth grade, let out a sigh each time he was correct.
Maybe it was because they were sixth graders, but Nishanth Bahaskara from Valley View, Kortney Casanova from La Crescenta and Mountain Avenue’s Will Lombardo walked to the microphone as if they had done this for years. They would get their words and spell them with ease.
Dunsmore’s sixth grader Sophia Kang had that same confidence when she spelled hieroglyphics; unfortunately the word was actually hieroglyphic and she was out. The spelling bee was that precise.
Students handled their successes and defeats with grace, however. After more than an hour and a half, Leah and Alexandria were left. Both were great spellers with completely different styles. Alexandria would be given a word, stand silent for only a second and then spell. Leah seemed to visualize the word, then spell.
Alexandria began to study for the event shortly after Thanksgiving.
“I don’t really have a technique,” she said.
She admitted that her favorite studies are spelling and English, and that she loves to read.
“I will try [for the spelling bee] again when I get to Rosemont,” she said.
Reading is something Leah and Alexandria have in common.
“She started reading [at an] early [age],” said her dad, Dave Kemp. “She still loves to read.”
For each kid on stage was a nervous parent in the audience. Kemp said his palms were sticky as he listened to his daughter spell each word.
For Leah, it was a great win and, although she looked nervous at times, she kept her cool.
“I was in my school’s spelling bee,” she said, adding that experience helped her prepare for the district.
Some of the students could spell the words but had difficulty pronouncing them. And some definitions were strange to them as well.
“Some of the words I didn’t understand,” she said. “But I liked spelling them anyway.”
The winners were: First place — Leah Kemp, fifth grade from Fremont; Second place — Alexandria Chwierut, sixth grade from Lincoln; Third place — (tie) Audrey Josephbeg, fifth grade from R.D. White and Ericka Shin, sixth grade from Edison; Fourth place — Joshua Choi, fourth grade from Verdugo Woodlands; Fifth place — Sarah Broackway, sixth grade from Glenoaks.
The competition at the middle school level was held on Jan. 12. Jerry Cortez, a seventh grade student at Toll, triumphed after more than 10 rounds of furious spelling.
“Jerry’s a great kid,” said his advanced English teacher Jason Wong. “He’s friendly and outgoing.”
Rosemont Middle School eighth grader Easun Arunachalam took second place in the competition. An accomplished speller — Arunachalam took third at district last year, won the regionals and moved on to the nationals — the word that finally tripped him up was “setenology.” Not to be foiled again, Arunachalam promptly acquainted himself with both the spelling and definition.
Speaking of the upcoming regional bee, Arunachalam said, “It’s mostly luck,” but added, “You need some amount of prep to know the ‘letter’ patterns for each language.”
Tied for third place on Jan. 12 were Wilson Middle School students Nicole Lee, eighth grade, and Anshika Niraj, seventh grade.
Wilson also claimed the title of Championship Team, with the most spellers remaining in the bee the longest.
The students will likely compete in the regionals in March.
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