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St. Albans School clinched victory for the second consecutive year at the Washington Informer Citywide Spelling Bee when Jerald Campana, an eighth grader, and Alexander Perez, a fourth grader, secured the first- and second-place spots, respectively.

Alexander Perez, a 4th grader at St. Albans School, earned second place in the 2023 DC Citywide Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Alexander Perez, a 4th grader at St. Albans School, earned second place in the 2023 DC Citywide Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Even in the midst of intense competition, the two schoolmates established a bond built on mutual respect and their love of spelling multisyllabic words. Alexander, a novice spelling bee participant, said he learned so much talking to Jerald and watching him leverage his years of spelling bee experience into wins at each level of the competition this year. 

With four more years of eligibility left, Alexander said he hopes to enter future spelling bees and follow a path similar to Jerald’s. 

“I learned new words and now I’m seeing those words and going back to them when I read books and write,” Alexander said. “The competition is fun [because] you meet other people and talk to them. You can make friends at the spelling bee, especially when you’re studying. The people who study go further.” 

Jerald and Alexander counted among nearly 30 District public, public charter, private and parochial students who competed in the 41st annual Washington Informer Citywide Spelling Bee on March 18. For the fourth consecutive year, the Office of Cable Television, Movies, Film and Entertainment (OCTMFE) hosted the competition, which carried several notable moments. 

For three hours, the pool of spellers slowly dwindled. Returning citywide spelling bee champion Nalleti Otieno, an eighth grader at St. Augustine Catholic School, made it through the fourth round before she was eliminated. Meanwhile, Eldana Mulugeta, a fourth grader at Center City Public Charter School Brightwood Campus, reentered the competition early on after successfully challenging the judges’ call about her spelling of “debunk.” 

By the fifth round, nearly a dozen students were still standing strong, with standouts including Gael Romero, an eighth grader at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School and Samuel Aydahis standing out as formidable competitors. By the 10th round, Gael counted among four students left on the stage, and even successfully rebuffed elimination at one point. 

However, by the 12th round, the spelling bee narrowed down to Jerald and Alexander. 

After 14 rounds, Alexander misspelled teledu, defined as a stink badger with brown and black fur and a white stripe along the top of its head and back. Jerald then swooped in and took the first place spot with his correct spelling of coup de grace, defined as an event that puts an end to a negative situation. 

In the weeks leading to the citywide spelling bee, Jerald, with the help of his mother, studied words from the champion-level spelling bee list provided to him. He also relied on the nearly two years of Latin instruction he received at St. Albans to help him recognize root words and origins. 

Jerald said those elements, along with a familiarity with the spelling bee stage, laid the foundation for a solid victory. Now he will represent Washington, D.C. in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, scheduled to take place between May 30 and June 1 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.  

“I’m anticipating the nationals will be a lot harder,” Jerald said as he reflected on the significance of the moment. “Since I won, I’ve gotten a lot of materials [and] a subscription to Webster’s Dictionary. It makes me feel proud to be a St. Albans student and part of that legacy. Historically we had a lot of winners and national spelling bee participants. I’m proud to be one of those that people could say was with the best spellers.” 

The Washington Informer has hosted the citywide spelling bee since 1981. Every year, thousands of students from more than 200 District schools participate in the competition, which had been taped and aired at NBC4 studios at one point. Even through the transition to OCTFME and a pandemic that relegated the bee to the virtual realm, D.C.’s best and brightest spellers continued to give it their all. 

Sponsors for this year’s spelling bee were: Washington Informer Charities and OCTFME along with Washington Gas, Pepco, Safeway Foundation, Comcast, D.C. Public Schools, Delta Kappa Gamma District of Columbia State Organization, Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education, Merriam-Webster, National Spelling Bee, Silver Spring Signarama, XBOX, and the D.C. government. 

OCTFME’s own Cecily Fernandez hosted the spelling bee, while David Zahren served as pronouncer. Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s education programs manager, Jason B. Moore, manager of secondary assessments and interventions at DCPS, and author-editor-poet Jonathan C. Lewis served as judges. 

LaToya Foster, in her first year as director of OCTFME, also took to the stage to welcome students, parents and community members who took part in what she described as a significant educational experience. “It’s always exciting for children and parents,” Foster told the Informer. “This is about D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commitment to youth and literacy. We look forward to doing more in line with that.” 

Amar Barber, an eighth grader at Walker-Jones Education Campus in Northwest, counted among those who entered the citywide spelling bee for the first time. Earlier this year, Amar entered the spelling bee at his school at the recommendation of his gym teacher. Much to his surprise, he rose through the ranks at the school-level bee and cluster bee. 

In the citywide bee, Amar was eliminated in the second round when he misspelled panorama. Though he admitted the loss briefly shocked him, Amar told the Informer that he gained an appreciation for the work that it takes to prepare for a spelling bee. 

With his eyes on Friendship Public Charter School – Northeast Campus for the next level in his academic career, Amar, an aspiring firefighter, said he feels better prepared to take on new challenges. 

“I wasn’t expecting to go to the citywide bee [but} I tried my best,” Amar said. “Practice makes perfect. Someone out there has more experience and deserves [the win]. This experience helped me gain confidence and understanding about what it’s like to be a finalist.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

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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