The Prince George’s County Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Washington Informer Newspaper and Washington Informer Charities Inc., took place on March 18 in its first in-person competition since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 with Noemie Jackson-Weaver, a sixth grader attending the New Hope Academy in Hyattsville, Md., emerging as its winner.
The competition occurred at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. Fifty-seven parents and friends of the 19 finalists came out to watch their youngsters compete academically for the opportunity to represent Prince George’s County in the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee which will take place during the Memorial Day week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
Chauka Reid, coordinator of the Prince George’s Spelling Bee, spoke about the uniqueness of this year’s competition.
“We did not have a Bee in 2020,” Reid said. “Just as we were going to set up for it the university notified us that because of COVID-19, we could not have the competition live. We did decide to have the competition in 2021 but it was via Zoom.”
Reid noted this year’s Prince George’s County Bee as the sixth sponsored by the Informer. The Informer has sponsored the Bee for 40 years, with its start in the District in 1981 due to the efforts of the Informer’s late publisher, Calvin Rolark. The District’s and Prince George’s County Bees are facilitated by Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes and the company’s Advertising and Marketing Director Ron Burke.
David Zahren, who has served as the moderator for the Prince George’s County Bee for many years, expressed excitement at this year’s competition.
“I was just in the waiting room with the kids and they can’t wait to come out here and compete,” Zahren said. “They are literally bouncing off the walls.”
Before the competition started, Amore Wilson, who attends Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Capitol Heights, Md., and winner of the 2021 Bee in Prince George’s, delivered a short address encouraging the participants.
Zahren called each of the 19 finalists to the stage to their chairs sufficiently spaced apart. When seated, Zahren recited the rules of the competition and offered encouraging words to the participants.
“I just want you to know that you all are all winners tonight,” he said.
At the end of the second round, seven out of the 18 finalists remained. By the end of Round 3, five spellers had endured. Round 4 had four competitors still in the hunt for first place. All but two remained for Round 5.
Jackson-Weaver clinched the victory with the word “arborio”, a noun defining a variety of cultivated short-grain rice that has high starch content as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In the ensuing competition for second place, Laura Bell, an eighth grader enrolled at the St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School in Beltsville, Md., won by successfully spelling the word “indulgent.”
Ellena Weaver, Noemie’s mother, expressed joy at her daughter’s victory.
“We are so proud of her,” Weaver said speaking for her husband and entire family. “She put in so much hard work and study for this. She watched past national spelling bee competitions on YouTube and learned the nuisances that were expected,” Weaver said.
Noemie received a $300 gift card for her win, while Laura got $200 as the runner-up. If Noemie can’t compete in the national Bee, Laura will represent the county.
Helen Knowles served as the head judge while Devaughn Moore and Cindy Kelley participated as assistant judges. Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the program manager of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s ESSA initiative, served as the challenge judge.
The sponsors for this year’s Bee included Educational Systems Federal Credit Union, Foundation of Achievement of Music & Education, Merriam-Webster, Pepco, the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce, the Safeway Foundation, Signarama, Silver Diner, Six Flags of America Washington D.C./Baltimore, The Clarice and Washington Gas.
Tracy Funn, Manager of Corporate Contribution and Supplier Diversity, is a regular attendee at the Prince George’s and D.C. spelling bees, observed Washington Informer Marketing Director Ron Burke.
“Washington Gas has been a long-standing supporter of the Spelling Bee events and felt it especially critical to continue that support given the circumstances of the COVID pandemic. Education, workforce development and training are two cornerstones of our community outreach pillars and the value of spelling definitely helps prepare students for their future careers,” Funn said.
The daughter of parents who taught for 50 and 51 years, respectively, Funn added, “The Spelling Bee competitions offer an outlet to expand educational opportunities and experiences for students. We applaud the Washington Informer Charities for their leadership, insight and ingenuity to coordinate these competitions and extend congratulations to all the students, their coaches, schools and families for engagement and support.”
Zahren said this year’s competition “was the best I’ve seen.”
“It is the personality of the students,” he said. “I think it had to do with COVID-19 and many of them getting together while many of them have been isolated since the pandemic started. The kids were just excited to be here.”