Third-grade first-place winner Brandon Arnold shows his excitement about his championship in the spelling bee. | Photo by Grace Finn

In today’s internet-connected world of text lingo and emojis, educators and parents worry children may lose sight of the importance of the basics of the English language.

That’s one reason why the District 91 school community continues to emphasize the importance of language with the annual spelling bee, held this year on May 10.

Forest Park schools hold the annual event every spring, a chance to celebrate the top spellers in the district and encourage an environment of supportive and positive competition.

Queala Wells, a fifth-grade teacher at Field-Stevenson Elementary School, helped to coordinate this year’s event. She said the competition is a great way for neighborhood students to build camaraderie and practice multiple English skills at the same time.

“Often, top spellers practice together and build on their skills through memorization,” Wells said. “In the process, they may pick up additional knowledge, such as learning the pronunciation, definition and origin of words.”

Each year, all third- through eighth-grade teachers in the district hold their own spelling bees in their classrooms, with the top spellers from each classroom advancing on to their own school’s spelling bee. After the individual school contests, top spellers are then invited to the district-wide competition.

At the district spelling bee, grades three through eight celebrate first-, second- and third-place spellers. This year’s first-place winners were Brandon Arnold (third grade), Avery Riley (fourth grade), Ashanti Coburn (fifth grade), Javier Figueroa (sixth grade), Derling Rivera (seventh grade) and Jesse Hoskins (eighth grade).

Currently, spelling bee winners do not advance to any regional tournaments, but Wells said the district is exploring that opportunity for the future.

Avery Riley, the first-place winner for the fourth grade, had participated in spelling bees at Field-Stevenson in the past but this was her first district-wide participation.

Riley’s preferred method of preparation included studying lists of words every night followed by pop quizzes from her mother.

When asked how spelling bee skills could be applied to school overall, Riley said, “Spelling [helps] prepare to talk in front of a bunch of people.”

Wells said even though the computer programs that students use today may automatically correct spelling errors, spelling remains as important today as ever.

“As any prospective college or job applicant knows, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be able to spell,” she said. “District 91 recognizes that a spelling bee can have a number of benefits for participants. Student preparation does not only involve rote learning of words, [but] it can spark a curiosity in etymology, expand a child’s vocabulary, enhance memory and develop learning skills and strategies.”

While still early in her academic career, Riley agrees that spelling is very important.

“There are certain points in life where you need to know how to spell certain words because you will not have help, like [during] PARCC [exams],” she said.

Additionally, Wells is happy Forest Park students are able to take part in an academic activity that provides valuable experience in public presentation.

“Competing in a spelling bee helps students gain confidence and experience in public speaking, in accepting mistakes with grace and dignity and receiving applause for their hard work and preparation,” Wells added.