VALPARAISO | Samantha Davis, a fourth-grader at Paul Saylor Elementary School in Valparaiso, sat at the back of the auditorium at Ben Franklin Middle School, writing in her notepad each word that was read during the Porter County Spelling Bee on Thursday night.
Davis, a runner up, came to support her friend Caitlyn House, who stuck it out for many rounds before finally misspelling the word “valiant.”
“We stayed in at recess and studied words together. We used lists from past spelling bees. She’s really good,” Davis said of her best friend.
Even though House wasn’t the last one standing, she said the event was fun and she was “sad it was over” as she left the school with a blue ribbon of participation in hand.
“My favorite part was practicing with Samantha because it was our time to spend together,” House said.
That kind of friendly camaraderie, healthy competition, and even a dose of character-building standing-on-a-stage, is what the Kiwanis’ sponsored event is all about, and has been since 1979.
Janine Krieger, a fifth-grade teacher at Washington Township Elementary School, says she feels the event is important for the fourth- and fifth-graders who come from schools all over the county.
“I work with kids on the prefixes and suffixes, and I tell them that the schwa is not your friend. When you hear it, go back to the base word to figure it out. But some natural spelling ability also helps,” Krieger says.
Sure enough, it was the schwa — that “uh” sound that can be represented by any number of vowels — that came between first and second place, as Evan Szabo of Ethel Jones Elementary in Portage misspelled “tentacle,” leaving Nick Korprcina of Emmanuel Lutheran in Valparaiso to spell it correctly as well as the challenging “conscious” for the fourth-grade win.
In the fifth-grade contest, Jackson Dreher and Josh Fedorchak battled for several minutes before Fedorchak pulled out the victory.
Students had to qualify through tests at their school to participate in the spelling bee, resulting in 28 fourth-grade entries and 26 fifth-grade entries. And even though only one could be the winner in each grade, Krieger says that each student is a proverbial winner.
“Getting up in front of this crowd is so hard,” said Krieger of the hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings, and teachers who came to watch, “so I tell them that they are already a winner just by being here.”