March 9-15, 2006
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Grimes Students Excel at Spelling and Vocabulary
Feb. 11 is a day Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School eighth grader Michael Christie will never forget. On that day, he represented the Syracuse Diocese at the Post Standard Spelling Bee and won the contest for the second time in a row. “I’m excited,” said Michael. “This was a chance for me to go further than I did last time in the nationals. When I competed last year, I was very nervous. I wanted to do better this time. Now I have more confidence.”
Michael realized some other benefits as a result of winning the Spelling Bee contest. He received an amazon.com gift certificate and a $100 U.S. savings bond. And, Michael will be representing Bishop Grimes at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. After completing a written spelling test on Feb. 4 at Corcoran High School, Michael qualified to compete in the oral spelling bee held at the WCNY-TV studio on Feb. 11. Joining Michael, and 32 other students that scored high enough to compete in the oral test, were Bishop Grimes students Angela Freeman and Elizabeth Reck.
Michael said he has always been interested in the meaning of words. “As I participated in the spelling bee contests, I became more and more interested in words,” said Michael. “My family and I like to research words in the dictionary, studying the word bases and reading about the history of the words and where they come from. I’ve become busier, because now I’m studying and preparing for the competition.” As part of his preparation for competing in the upcoming national spelling bee, Michael utilizes a number of resources. He studies the dictionary, focusing on words that look unfamiliar to him. Michael also uses a word list generated by the Scripps National Spelling Bee office, concentrating on any unknown words. In addition, Michael studies Paideia, a book containing 26 categories of words that are commonly used in the beginning rounds of the contest.
Michael’s parents play an integral part in his preparation for the competition, especially his father, who quizzes Michael. “We’re really looking into the history of words right now,” said Michael. “My parents do what they can to support me.” The usual procedure at the spelling bee is for the pronouncer to give the speller a word, and the speller is then encouraged to pronounce the word before and after spelling it. The speller is allowed to ask the pronouncer to say the word again, define it, use it in a sentence, provide the part of speech, and/or provide the language of origin. The spelling bee is conducted in rounds. Each speller remaining in the spelling bee at the start of the round spells one word in the round. Upon missing the spelling of a word, a speller immediately drops out of the competition. The next word on the pronouncer’s list is given to the next speller. Michael said he felt anxious at the beginning of his most recent contest. “I was nervous, but I got my confidence back after a few rounds,” he said. In addition to his parents, Michael feels supported by his fellow parishioners at St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale. After Father Francis Young announced Michael’s success with the spelling bee in church recently, Michael received all sorts of encouragement and congratulations from the congregation.
Michael has also received a lot of support from his teachers at Bishop Grimes. “They told me that they hoped I would do well at the spelling bee, and then after the bee, they congratulated me,” said Michael. Bishop Grimes Earth Science teacher, Shareen Elsenbeck watched as her student Michael competed in the Post Standard Spelling Bee on television. “It was neat to watch,” said Elsenbeck. “The last word that he spelled happened to be an Earth Science term. I think it’s wonderful that he’s going on to Washington to compete. I feel so proud that he’s one of my students. I’ve seen him studying a lot. He’s very motivated — he gives 110 percent.” Michael said he receives recognition for his achievements from his classmates on a daily basis. “The response from his classmates was so overwhelming, it brought tears to my eyes,” said head of the English department, Jennifer Foster. “They were amazed because they realize how hard it is. His success has had such a positive impact on things here at school. We’re very impressed by him.” Foster knew Michael was an exceptional student from the moment she met him. “He shows an appreciation for words that is lacking in our society today,” said Foster. “I was totally ecstatic when he won — he had stiff competition.”
Recently, Michael talked to Bishop Grimes principal Sister James Therese Downey, OSF, about the Reader’s Digest National World Tower Challenge. It’s an outreach program designed to instill a love of words and language in fourth through eighth-grade students. It helps students form a genuine understanding of words and an appreciation of books. Winners of the Challenge are awarded $50,000 in scholarships and other prizes. As a result of Michael’s suggestion, the program has been integrated into the curriculum at Bishop Grimes.
Bishop Grime’s seventh-grade student Thomas Marzullo won a scholarship and books for his school after participating in the Tower Challenge last December and January. By taking a number of tests that measured vocabulary skills with other seventh and eighth-grade students at Bishop Grimes, Thomas has qualified to advance to the state championship level of the competition. He will be competing with 99 seventh-grade students from schools across New York State at an event in New York City in March.
Through participating in the Tower Challenge, Thomas has changed the way he studies and he also feels proud of his success. “I spend a lot more time studying vocabulary words now,” he said. “It’s nice to know that I am one of the top 100 students in New York State.”