5th-graders enjoy spelling bee success

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NEWFANE — A local team made up of all fifth graders came in second place in a statewide spelling bee where most of their opponents were older.

NewBrook Elementary School sent Bela Vanni-Phillips, Miles Seiz, Quinn Connolly, Dezrah Bills and Rowan Mattson to the Vermont State Spelling Competition at the Northfield Junior-Senior High School.

"They worked really hard," said Joyce Van Pamelen, fifth-grade teacher at NewBrook. "They really came together as a team."

This is the first time the school has sent a team of only fifth-graders. Van Pamelen said other teams are mostly made up of sixth-graders.

Her school no longer has a sixth grade. Sixth-graders from the West River Education District towns of Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane and Townshend now attend Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend.

No other schools from the Windham Central Supervisory Union had a team this year so NewBrook's went straight to the Nov. 2 regional competition where the team beat host school Manchester Elementary, which came in third place, and Wallingford Elementary School, which came in second place.

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Dezrah has not spelled any word incorrectly in the competitions.

"She worked really, really hard," Van Pamelen said.

Quinn recalled spelling "volcano" and "petroleum" wrong in the regional contest and "vanquished" in the state competition. Bela remembered incorrectly spelling "occurrence."

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Miles said he spelled "exalted" incorrectly in the first contest and "caress" in the second. But Van Pamelen was proud of him for getting "diplomacy" right.

The students recorded how many minutes they spent on studying spelling this school year. Combined, they studied for more than 3,000 minutes.

Dezrah logged in more than 1,000 minutes. Still, she called the state competition "really nerve-wracking" and her teammates had similar feelings. They went on to tie with Cambridge Elementary School for second place, losing only to Montpelier's Main Street Middle School. They had pizza to celebrate their accomplishments after the state competition and Mexican food after the regional contest.

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Dezrah said team members learned how to use syllables to help break down words before spelling them. Quinn said they might ask to be provided with an example of the word being used in a sentence. Miles said they also might have asked for a definition.

"If all else fails, sound it out," Bela added.

During practice, the students would stand together in a huddle with each saying something to help their teammate spell a word. Vanni-Phillips said Van Pamelen would give out Skittles candies as prizes for spelling words right.

"Now, Skittles are my favorite candy," Miles said.

The spelling bees are sponsored by the Vermont Principals' Association. The regional contest included schools from 17 supervisory unions and the state competition included schools from five supervisory unions.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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