Potter students find stiff competition in Spelling Bee

Potter Junior High School Spelling Bee winners are, from left, first place – Connor Williamson, second place – Lianna Arnold and third place – Viviana Lasley. Shane Gibson
Potter Junior High School Spelling Bee winners are, from left, first place – Connor Williamson, second place – Lianna Arnold and third place – Viviana Lasley. Shane Gibson

Potter Junior High School held its annual spelling bee on Jan. 31. Forty-five students showed up to compete. The competitors were such good spellers this year that the final three students battled it out from round 13 through round 24 before there was a winner. Those three finalists were Connor Williamson, first place; Lianna Arnold, second place; and Viviana Lasley, third place.

According to bee organizer and school librarian Robin Duarte, the students finished all the tougher words in this year’s word guide.

“The last three students then had to start a new batch of words that started easier again, but the students had never seen these words on a study list,” she said.

The last six words spelled were: select, feature, couplet, juncture, scuffle, and clarify, which were easier than the ones spelled before the second word list began.

However, the earlier word list included tougher words like outre, phrenologists, malacca, chevalier, ague, and netsuke, which the students did spell correctly, Duarte said.

“This was the longest Spelling Bee I have organized in the past five bees,” said Duarte.

She also said that in the last few years, Potter’s winning students finished in the top 10 out of more than 100 students participating at the county level. Natalie Weber in 2014 and Nina Ellefsen in 2016 were Potter past winners who made it to those final rounds at the county level.

The Spelling Bee has a long tradition at Potter. Brian Medina won it in 2015 and had his big brother there to congratulate him; his brother had participated in the bee 10 years earlier.

The students volunteer to participate in the Spelling Bee and study on their own time starting one to two months before the event.

Duarte said that the Potter PTA helps by donating the prizes while the school district contributes the trophies and certificates to for students.

“The students get very excited for winning the $250 worth of gift cards given to our top five winners,” she said. “It is nice to see the participating students each year congratulate and cheer each other on. They worked hard to participate. As you can tell, I am so proud of these students giving their all and trying. It is scary and nerve racking for some of these students to speak publicly and compete at the same time. That’s why even on our podium this year the message was, ‘It Takes Courage to  a Leader’.”

The judges for the competition were all retired teachers from Potter: Morey Sherman, Ed Cyran, and Sandra Forrest. Siegrid Stillman, vice president on the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District board and retired teacher from La Paloma Elementary School, was the pronouncer who gave the students the words to spell.

Connor will participate in the county-wide Spelling Bee on March 23 at San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park.

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