No More Z-O-O-M: In-Person Spelling Bee Returns

Josephine LoRusso (V) spells their way to third place citywide! (Source: Jonathan Wiggs)

Josephine LoRusso (V) spells their way to third place citywide! (Source: Jonathan Wiggs)

On March 3, Boston Latin School hosted its first in-person spelling bee in two years, where the first-place winner Josephine LoRusso (V) went on to represent the school at the citywide competition.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is a decades-old nationwide competition with various levels, starting in the classroom. Winners of classroom bees first compete within their school before the winner advances to the city-wide level. The winner of the city-wide competition moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held in Washington, D.C.

Held in the auditorium after school, the school spelling bee was facilitated by Head of BLS English Department Ms. Susan Moran. 12 seventh graders and eighth graders competed in an intense two-hour-long competition.

At the BLS spelling bee, students were randomly assigned a number and called up each round based on the order. The pronouncer would then give the student a word to spell. If a student misspelled a word, they were eliminated.The difficulty of the words increased as the rounds progressed.

Because everyone was wearing masks and organizers wanted to ensure absolute clarity, pronouncers gave the student information such as the country of origin, definition, parts of speech, alternative pronunciations and example sentences. In previous years, competitors had to request this information. LoRusso was the last speller remaining, making them the winner of the spelling bee. Their winning word was “drudgery,” meaning “dull, irksome and fatiguing work; uninspiring or menial labor,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

LoRusso advanced to the Boston citywide spelling bee, organized by the Boston Center for Youth and Families, held on March 19 in the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library. They placed third in the city bee against 18 other students.

Their experience with spelling bees stems back to fourth grade, but it was not until seventh grade that LoRusso started competing in a schoolwide spelling bee.

Studying for the spelling bee involved a packet of words that each competitor received before the event. Not all the words in the actual bee, however, were guaranteed to be on the list. LoRusso explains that they used a PDF editor called Kami to study remotely both last year and this year. When practicing, they would follow a system of highlighting answers that they spelled incorrectly in red, answers they spelled correctly once in yellow and answers they spelled correctly more than once in green.

Last year’s spelling bee was held remotely as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where students competed over Zoom. 

Ms. Vali Tamm, a longtime parent volunteer for the BLS spelling bee, reflects, “It’s difficult on Zoom for everybody, so it was great to be back in the school to watch the students. The thing that I noticed that is different [between pre-COVID-19] and [post-COVID-19] is just the level of camaraderie between the students,” 

When organizing the event, COVID-19 was the main concern: a possible virtual option was considered and the School constantly monitored the infection rates. Unlike in previous years, students were not allowed to show up to support their classmates, and no snacks were provided.

“We kept our options open until the very week of the bee, because we wanted to be sure it would be completely safe. […] Fortunately for that week, the infection rate was very low and things, in general, in our own building, were starting to open up a little bit. So, we felt it was safe to hold it in person,” explains Ms. Moran.

Reflecting on their experience after winning the School spelling bee and receiving third place in the citywide competition, LoRusso shares, “It was a lot less stressful than I thought it was going to be. […] Overall, I had a lot more fun than I thought I was going to.”

Credit: Joanna Lin (III)