It doesn’t take one single watt of electricity to run a spelling bee; nor is a computer or mobile device required to crown the best speller in a Revere school.
In an educational world that is increasingly computerized and Internet savvy, Spelling Bees don’t quite fit the typical mold of modern innovation. Yet, at the same time, they’re taking many of the city’s elementary schools by storm, invigorating students, parents and staff members through one of the oldest ideas to come out of schoolhouses – spelling words correctly.
“The students love it; the parents love it,” said Garfield Elementary Principal Patricia DiGregorio. “I feel like a return to some of these old, familiar things brings a level of comfort in a time when everything is changing in education…Old is not necessarily a bad thing anymore.”
That same sentiment was echoed from Paul Revere School Principal Barbara Kelly, who is largely credited with bringing the Bees back to Revere schools.
“I guess what’s good never totally goes away,” she said. “The good things always make a comeback. It puts a smile on my face to see how the kids have embraced this and what lengths they go to practice spelling…There is a human part to this. You can see one kid helping another kid. The enthusiasm is everywhere – the teachers, parents and students. We’ve gotten everyone in on the excitement of our Bee. I even saw one of the custodians practicing a spelling word with one of the kids. It’s all across the schools and it’s healthy competition.”
The Spelling Bee was a staple of the Revere Public Schools for many years, being run for decades by current School Committeewoman Carol Tye – a former English teacher. Students from across the city competed in contests and citywide champions were crowned.
However, about 10 to 15 years ago, the Spelling Bees fell out of favor and the schools discontinued them.
In 2011, Kelly brought back the Spelling Bee, but this time signed on to the nationwide Scripps Howard competition – which comes with standard rules and carries the possibility of being able to travel to Washington, D.C. for the nationally televised final competition.
The idea caught on so quickly that the Beachmont Elementary and Garfield Elementary both signed on as well and held their first competitions last year.
The Bees are big medicine in the elementary schools, and have almost become a rite of passage. Each student in the school participates in a classroom Spelling Bee. The champion of each room – from grades 3 to 5 – then gets to represent their classroom in the schoolwide Bee.
At those Bees, kids have to stand up on stage and spell words correctly in front of a large crowd.
Parents sit nervously in the front row, biting their lips and clenching their fists as their children spell under pressure.
Tense classroom teachers pace in the back of the room as their charges do their best to win.
And the kids, naturally, remain the calmest group in the room as they go to the microphone and do their very best to get every letter right.
The school winners have the chance to advance to the regional bee at Lynn City Hall on March 14. A win there qualifies one for the national competition this summer.
The Beachmont held its Bee last Friday, and the Paul Revere will hold its Bee on Thursday. The Garfield will be next week.
Beachmont Assistant Principal Chad Flahive organizes the competition at Beachmont and, interestingly, is a former citywide Revere champion from “back in the day.”
He said he took on the task to help the kids have good memories of the school.
“We were really looking to enhance the student experiences at the Beachmont School,” he said. “The kids really all band together and create a great memory. The Spelling Bee has enhanced the student experience and created great memories. As a kid, it was something I always looked forward to. I still remember coming to the Beachmont for the Bee and Ms. Romano was running it. It gives our kids a rare opportunity to stand up there and be poised in front of an audience. It’s an experience we don’t often get to do these days given all the work that we’re expected to do in the school year.”
Tye, who acts frequently as a judge and moderator for the contests, said she has thoroughly enjoyed seeing a low-tech idea make a comeback in a high-tech world.
“It’s really getting popular,” she said. “I think it’s just a wonderful opportunity to let the kids show off.”
Added DiGregorio, “I remember participating in it when I was a student at the Lincoln School. I also remember administering it when I was a teacher at the Lincoln School. Then it did kind of fall out of existence when frameworks and standards came into play in education. Kids need it. We love it and I hope more schools pick up on it.”
Cutline – Front Page folder
Beachmont Third Grader Jana Choukri prepares to spell her word at last Friday’s Beachmont Spelling Bee. A blast from the past, Spelling Bees have caught a wave of popularity once more in Revere as students, parents and teachers re-discover the simple fun of a low-tech idea in a high-tech world.