No summer learning loss here!


ST. PETERSBURG — Childs Park YMCA held its annual Achieving Great Things Community Spelling Bee Thurs., July 24 in their multipurpose room located at 691 43rd St. S.

The room was pack with proud but nervous parents all waiting in anticipation for their child’s number to be called to step up to the microphone. The walk up to the microphone was only a few feet, but with a room full of people watching their every move, it no doubt felt like a mile.

Most of these kids attended the Childs Park YMCA Academic Summer Camp. They were academically focused throughout the summer, and this spelling bee was a way to showcase their talents.

The summer camp supports lessons learned from the previous school year and prepares the children for the next.

And prepared is exactly what these kids were. You could see it in their eyes as they sauntered across the stage that they were prepared for whatever words were thrown at them.

Doing the word throwing this year was Pinellas County School Board Member Rene Flowers who also served as mistress of ceremonies.

Each year this event gets larger and larger with notable guess sitting in to officiate. This year the top educator in the county stopped by to keep time for the illustrious bee. Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego could be seen gushing over the adorable tots.

To track when a student had been eliminated from the competition and to ensure accuracy of the winners, Kyesha Robinson of Lutheran Services was there wearing a huge smile. And, Vice President of Operations for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, Michael Batiato, was the keeper of words making sure that the students correctly spelled the word that was given to them.

Starting with the pre-K class, these adorable youngsters had not even reached kindergarten. This small category only had three contestants: Malia Cromartie, Jayla Cummings and Joseph Cummings. The first round of words was kid’s play to these three cuties. They all quickly spelled them with no hesitation, but once the words started getting a little harder they started to crumble one by one.

Anyone who knows Flowers knew her heart would break for the babies, so she took mistress of ceremony privileges and announced that all three pre-K contestants would receive a trophy, and the crowd went wild.

The next group of children had to have completed kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year (level one). The words got a little harder but Aiden Newton, Spencer Belnavis and Der’reon Turner weathered the storm to be the last three standing. The word “eleven” took Der’reon down to leave Spencer the winner.

The next level of children (level two) to compete had to have completed first grade and going into second. The competition in this category was stiff. When the dust finally settled, there were only three standing: Jade Bridges, Mikal Morris and Anthonio Newton.

Not even large compound words could trip them up. When Flowers called out a word that was a homophone, Anthonio was quick to ask for a sentence. He knew the trickery of the bee and that’s why he won his category. Mikal Morris came in second and Jade Bridges third.

If you thought the first two groups of competitors were tough, the second graders going into the third grade could be compared to watching a tennis match. The last three standing, Morgan Kincade, Keyon Carbart and Makayla Miller, bounced words back and forth off the judges’ heads with the greatest of ease. When the dust settled, Makayla was the victor, leaving Keyon in second place and Morgan in third.

The third grade going into fourth grade category saw increasingly harder words. The word “thirst” took down four kids in one fell swoop. Matthias Furse, Matthew Barfield and Amari Campbell showed little regard for the clock on the wall. As the appointed time for the bee to be over came and went, these three were still locked in a war of attrition. In the end, however, Amari Campbell sat down her competitors as she did last year.

The fourth grade going into fifth grade category words were so hard that the first word took down four right out of the gate, but that didn’t stop Olivia Delancy, Marrio James and Jenesis Richardson. These three came to play.  Words such as “extravagant” and “detrimental” were of no consequence to them. In the end there could be only one, and that one was Jenesis. She too won in her category last year.

Now there can’t be a bee without controversy, and this year was no different. To “e” or not to “e,” that was the question. The word was “judgment,” and two kids in the fifth grade going into sixth grade category spelled it “judgement” with an “e” after the “g” and were eliminated. A parent in the audience contested the ruling stating that Wikipedia spells it with an “e.”

After the judges conferred, they decided to uphold the original ruling of no “e.” Even though it was found both ways on the internet, the list of words that the children were given to study off of had it as “judgment” with no “e.”

Former city councilmember Flowers, who was embroiled in controversy with last year’s bee, had to calm the audience saying, “It is important as adults that we follow the same rules that we give the kids. I am not discrediting anyone but I think it is only appropriate because I know the children were giving the list and it was on the website without the “e.”  I understand if someone in the audience doesn’t agree, but I think it is only appropriate that I go by the list that the children studied from.”

With that judgment, Kendrick Gordon was the first place winner, last year’s first place winner, Michael Barfield, came in second and Imani Pennywell came in third.

Executive Director of the Childs Park YMCA Deborah Figgs-Sanders wrapped up the evening with these wise words: “All of the children were winners…they all practice and all wanted to be in first place, but just the fact that you were brave and bold enough to get on this stage proves that you are all winners.”

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