JOHNSTON COUNTY — The trees are beginning to bud and the daffodils are up. It’s officially that time of year: bee season.
Johnston County, however, is ringing in the start of a different season totally unrelated to pollen counts. Here, it is spelling bee season.
In preparation for the county elementary spelling bee that will be held at Selma Elementary School on March 19 from 3:30-5 p.m., Johnston County elementary schools are winnowing the competition to see who will represent their school at the contest.
Wilson’s Mills Elementary just announced its victor, fourth-grader Ashley Crumpler. Crumpler took home the prize from a field of 37 with the winning word, “algebra”.
“I was nervous at first,” Crumpler said. “My first word was ‘cafeteria’ and I took my time to spell it right and then when I got it I had more confidence [for future rounds].”
Crumpler’s principal, James Stoke, is a fan of spelling bees and the growth he sees in participating students.
“Students who compete in spelling bees are building off an interest in literacy. They are learning about word origins and patterns in words,” Stoke said.
Vocabulary development is critical for literacy, fluidity and comprehension. Students who have an interest in words become better readers and writers.
At the school level teachers decide on the list of words from which they will choose. Students are not given any lists to study, but are encouraged to read a lot and think about prefixes and suffixes. Children who enjoy games such as Mad Libs and crossword puzzles seem to excel in spelling bees which may be due to increased exposure to different kinds of words.
Bee participants also gain confidence by speaking in front of crowds. “One reason that Ashley was successful in the bee is that he took his time and worked the word out before he said it into the microphone,” Stoke said. If a student says a letter and immediately realizes he or she misspoke and corrects the error the word is still counted as incorrect.
At Wilson’s Mills Stoke and the competing students went over the rules of the contest and had practice time on the stage to acclimate the students to the venue.
Playing for keeps
Once a student graduates to middle school the competition gets more fierce and the stakes get even higher. The winner of the Johnston County spelling bee wins a treasure trove of prizes including a week-long stay in Washington D.C. to compete at the national level at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, travel expenses, a dictionary from which to study and a stipend for odds and ends.
The 2012 winner, Zachary Jacobs, won the Clayton Middle and County bees and came in 55th in the national event from a field of over 200 students.
“My older brother [Shane Jacobs] won the county bee twice, so he helped me prepare last year by calling words,” Jacobs said. “We have books of more frequently called words that we would study in addition to the dictionary.”
Jacobs relies on memorization primarily when studying for a spelling event. Other methods of study focus on the etymology of the word for clues as to the spelling.
Jacobs says he has developed a sense of persistence through his efforts to prepare for the spelling bee competitions.. “Studying for spelling bees taught me to keep working no matter how hard the words got. You can’t give up,” Jacobs said. “It also taught me how to spell a lot of words.”
The Smithfield Herald sponsors the Johnston County Spelling Bee for middle school students. The county-level compeition begins at 6 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend.