First and second place winners Charlie Palmore and Reva Kelly prepare for interviews after claiming the winning trophies during the 40th Annual Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
First and second place winners Charlie Palmore and Reva Kelly prepare for interviews after claiming the winning trophies during the 40th Annual Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

The top three finalists in this year’s citywide spelling bee each had the support of family members who helped them study and imparted words of wisdom the winners used to keep their cool while spelling challenging words.  

On March 19, Charlie Palmore followed in the footsteps of his older brother, 2019 spelling bee winner Teddy Palmore, when he clinched first place at the 40th annual Washington Informer Spelling Bee. His winning word was “dyphasia” defined as a language disorder marked by deficiency in the generation of speech, and sometimes also in its comprehension, due to brain disease or damage.

Within a matter of weeks, Charlie will compete against other spellers at Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. While reflecting on his accomplishment, Charlie, who participated in the citywide bee two years ago, said all the hours of sifting through spelling lists and studying countries of origin proved helpful. 

“I had a feeling of satisfaction and happiness for having done that,” Charlie said. “My brother gave me some useful pointers in helping me study. I definitely knew there were some eyes on me, and I just thought about how maintaining my composure would give me a clear head which would be necessary to do well.” 

After nearly three hours of competition at the D.C. Office of Cable Television, Film, Music, and Entertainment (OCTFME), Charlie, an eighth-grader at St. Albans School in Northwest, proudly held up his trophy alongside second-place winner Reva Kelly of Washington Latin Public Charter School in Northwest and third-place winner Nina Keefe of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Northwest. 

Charlie, Reva, and Nina competed against 28 other young people from District public, public charter, private and parochial schools. They stepped to the mic to spell multisyllabic and phonetically challenging words. Participants often requested a definition, pronunciation, and country of origin as their parents and other audience members sat in quiet anticipation.  

OCTFME’s Cecily Fernandez and NBC4’s Justin Finch served as hosts, while David Zahren, a Prince George’s County television instructional specialist, pronounced words to contestants. Dr. Elizabeth Primas of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Jason Moore, city-wide spelling bee coordinator, Mawuena De-Souza of DC Public Schools [DCPS], and author-journalist-poet Jonathan Lewis served as judges. 

The number of contestants dwindled throughout the competition as judges rang the bell after a misspelling requiring a participant to leave the stage. Though she would meet a similar fate at the very end of the round, Reva said she enjoyed the process and understands, now more than ever, how the study habits she formed will help her meet her goal of becoming an astronaut. 

“I would go through the list for words that seemed more difficult,” said Reva, an eighth-grader who said she used study packets beforehand for the second time in three years to prepare for the citywide bee.

“I’d ask my mom and dad to quiz me, and that would be helpful in just learning how to spell the words. You can learn many words to help you in school later and give you a better work ethic to learn time management and determine how hard to study,” she said.

Sponsors of this year’s spelling bee included DCPS, Scripps National Spelling Bee, Pepco Exelon, the Safeway Foundation, WGL Holdings, the Washington Nationals, Foundation for the Advancement of Music & Education, Merriam-Webster, and Silver Spring Signarama. Speakers included State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant, who commended the students for their dedication as they faced a pandemic that forced many of them to adjust to virtual learning.

Nina said the road to third place came with much determination. In her second year back at the citywide spelling bee, Nina aspired to make it past the second round, where she got eliminated as a fifth-grader in 2019. Achieving this goal required her to study for at least one hour a day, focusing on intermediate and higher-level spelling words. 

Through it all, Nina’s parents continued to encourage her and keep her excited about the big day. 

“It’s very fun to be on that stage and advance that far,” said Nina, a seventh-grader at Oyster-Adams.

“It feels like your work pays off,” she continued. “You have to have the skills to be able to study all of these words every day and do the hard part before you can do the fun part. You have to maintain a rigorous schedule that requires you to think a lot every single day for a long period of time,” she added.

LaVar Burton, actor, director, educator and lifelong children’s literacy adovocate, will host the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee. 

“The selection of Mr. Burton as host aligns with the mission of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. To have such a prominent advocate for children’s literacy involved in this special and unique competition is a perfect match. We have the same goals: to educate tomorrow’s leaders and build reading competency in all young people,” said Dr. J. Michael Durnil, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 2022 National Scripps Spelling Bee will make its primetime debut on ION, Bounce and Laff, available free and over-the-air to viewers as well as on cable and streaming. ION will televise the Semifinals on June 1 and the Finals on June 2. 

ION, the No. 5 most-watched entertainment network in primetime, and Bounce, America’s first and No. 2 most-watched African American-focused over-the-air network, are each available in nearly 120 million households across the country. 

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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