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Students stumped, succeed at Schenectady spelling bee

All students took home a trophy at Schenectady's 2023 district-wide spelling bee
Lucas Willard
All students took home a trophy at Schenectady's 2023 district-wide spelling bee

It was a day of F-U-N for local students today in Schenectady — which we’re not going to spell on air — during a district-wide bee.

“Good morning, everyone. Thanks for coming out, parents, more importantly our spelling bee champions from respective schools.”

In Mont Pleasant Middle School’s auditorium, Schenectady City School District superintendent Dr. Anibal Soler Jr. welcomed the participants of the 2023 district-wide spelling bee.

More than two dozen contestants from three middle schools and 11 elementary schools were seated on stage before the first round of the competition.

Before the students were asked to spell their first word of the day the superintendent had a message of encouragement.

“And so this is the one word I don’t want you guys to ever forget, despite whatever happens here, OK? Whether your nerves…deep breaths, relax. Here is the one word I want you to be able to spell: ‘winner.’”

One by one, the contestants step up to spell. Everyone makes it to Round 2…

“Beetle. B-E-E-T-L-E. Beetle.”

“Minute. M-I-N-U-T-E. Minute.”

“Trout. T-R-O-U-T. Trout.”

The contestants are able to ask the pronouncer to repeat the word, use it in a sentence, or provide a definition.

Here’s Spelling Bee Pronouncer Joe Dicaprio, the district’s Executive Principal for Elementary education using one of the provided words – ‘sifting’ – in a sentence…

“Eddie is sifting his Pokémon cards to find all the water types, which are his favorites. The words is ‘sifting.’

“Sifting. S-I-F-T-I-N-G. Sifting.”

“That is correct.”

But soon, the contestants are asked to spell new words.

“Although the next sections of words might sound less difficult, you have not had the opportunity to study this list of words prior to today’s competition,” said Dicaprio.

Round by round, more participants are eliminated. The students take their time. The more rounds in, the higher the tension.

“The word is prevalent.”

“Can I get it in a sentence?”

“Sure. ‘Malaria is a still a prevalent disease in tropical areas of the world. ‘Prevalent.’”


The audience watches in silence.

“P-R-E-V-E-L-E-N-T. Prevalent.”

“I’m sorry that’s incorrect.”

Other challenging words that bested contestants – “bemusement,” “ruse,” “diffract.”

By Round 7, there are three contestants left. After two misspellings, Central Park Middle School student Amir Miles is up last. He correctly spells “contentious” before moving onto the final championship word.

“Miraculous. Could you use that in a sentence?”

“Absolutely. When a lightning strike cuts the plane’s power, they’re forced to make a miraculous landing.”

“Miraculous. M-I-R-A-C-U-L-O-U-S. Miraculous.”

“And we have a spelling bee champion! Well done!”

I asked Miles how he felt about taking the district trophy.

“I feel absolutely amazing, to see the least.”

This is not the first rodeo for the eighth-grader, but it was his first win. The last time he made it to district-wide competition was when he was in fifth grade.

“Last year I got in fifth place for my school spelling bee, so I didn’t come here, but this year I was able to do what I used to do,” said Miles.

I asked Miles what he likes to do with all of this spelling power.

“It was my very first language that I spoke, so yeah, I have a bit of pride in it. And I do write some stories sometimes. I just generally like the finer stories,” said Miles.

His favorite story, Miles says, is “The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster.

Heather Keough, school librarian at Central Park Middle School, say the road to the district spelling bee starts in the classroom.

“We start by doing either classroom bees or taking volunteers from classrooms. We get about 30 students for our school bee, which is held in the library, and they get a list of practice words to practice from that, and then from there winners get a list of study words that they use for this bee.”

Dicaprio, the bee’s pronouncer, says he also competed in the spelling bee when he was a fifth-grader in Schenectady. Standing behind the lectern, he knows what the students at the microphone are going through.

“I think the first they think of is, ‘Do I have the word?’ So I can see that reflection of, ‘This is what was said. Did I hear it correctly?’ And then they engage in the spelling process. I saw that pretty consistently. I think that kind of offsets the nervousness. And then the second reaction is, ‘OK. I know that word. Let’s get after it.’ Or, ‘Mmm, I don’t think I know that word. And that’s where you can kinda see, at least from where I sit, that shift to, ‘All right, I gotta figure this out,’ or ‘I got this.’ And I remember feeling that, as a student.”

All students who competed took a participation trophy and sharpened their reading and writing skills.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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