Thursday November 12, 2015
October 31 was a triumphant day for the two spelling bee teams from the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS). Both the 5/6 and the 7/8 teams won the regional Vermont Principal Association’s competition and will compete at the state level in mid-November.
FHTMS Spelling Coach Edith Ainsley reports that the 7/8 team has veteran spellers who have been competing for three or four years, “Many of whom started in 5th grade with me,” says Ainsley. The 5/6 team also has experienced spellers who are back for a second year, as well as newcomers who placed a win in their first competition.
Ainsley says interest at FHTMS in the spelling bees has grown over the years, “Unlike many middle schools, we are lucky to be able to seat two six-person teams, plus alternates, for the last five to six years.”
This year, according to Ainsley, was more of a challenge as she was out with an injury. Fortunately, her daughter, Emilie Schweikert, a junior at the University of Vermont as well as an Elementary Education student, jumped on board to help. Schweikert filled in as coach on the Wednesday afternoon practice sessions, aided by returning spelling bee parent, Jared Larrow. In addition, Ainsley says many of the students have dedicated parents who quiz them throughout the weeks leading up to the first weekend in November.
“Though most won’t believe it,” says Coach Ainsley, “spelling competitions are far more exciting and nerve wracking than many kinds of student competitions.” She reports that a seasoned spelling bee parent describes it as grueling, adding, “The silence of the room, the verbal display of knowledge with 150 people leaning in to hear each letter, is the real nail biter of exciting competitions. I break the tension in my own mind by looking at all the parents in the audience staring at their cell phones, checking how each word is spelled! These kids are far better than they know!”
Ainsley speaks with passion about the process, “Many of our spellers fall in love with words, with the power and humor of language. They discover rules and the myriad exceptions to rules in our ‘hodge-podgey’ English language. They savor traditional spelling words like hippopotamus and moccasins, and wonder at the multiple syllables of many words derived from Latin, like magnanimous.” She says preparing for the spelling bees with the students is both hard work and fun, often full of surprises and laughs, “Like the word shrivel which just sounds so funky - it comes from the Swedish dialect, skryvla, which means to wrinkle.”
For those who want to experience a spelling bee competition first hand, Ainsley says they can join the Tuttle spelling bee teams at Northfield High School Saturday, November 14, for the State Spelling Competition. The 5/6 competition begins at 10 a.m. and the 7/8 veteran’s competition begins at 1 p.m. One student from FHTMS will earn the right to represent the school district at the Scripps State Spelling Bee held mid-spring at St. Michael’s College.