MALTA – It’s a good thing Genoa-Kingston Middle School eighth-grade student Bryanna Sonntag built up quite the repertoire of spelling knowledge over the past several months.
After countless hours of studying, she sealed an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where she’ll compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May, with that very 50-cent word: repertoire.
Bryanna, 14, of Genoa won this year’s DeKalb County Spelling Bee, presented by the Daily Chronicle and Scripps, on Saturday at the Kishwaukee College Theater, 21193 Malta Road. She said she wasn’t expecting the bee to be so competitive, but she feels good about her progress overall as she moves to the national bee.
“I’m representing my school and my family, and I’m just proud to be able to represent them,” Bryanna said.
Bryanna’s mother, Tammy, said Bryanna sacrificed a lot to study for the county spelling competition. She said Bryanna didn’t audition for theater activities as usual, and instead studied word spellings and vocabulary daily.
“I’m just really excited,” Tammy said. “I think she worked really hard, and obviously her hard work paid off.”
Levi Thompson, a student at St. Mary School in DeKalb, was the runner-up for this year’s county spelling bee.
Amanda Christensen, regional superintendent for the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education and coordinator for the DeKalb County Spelling Bee, also said this particular bee was one of the more competitive ones in recent years. She said participating students took the time to ask a lot more questions about their words this time – such as word origins and alternative pronunciations – and to think about their assigned word before spelling it.
Regardless of how far they advance in the competition, Christensen said, students who participate in spelling bees have the benefit of gaining a better understanding of the English language and the context of how certain words are used.
“It’s really not just the mechanics of spelling,” Christensen said. “It’s also the greater skill of communication and literacy.”
Christensen said this kind of competition also can serve as an alternative niche for students to gain accolades and develop a sense of camaraderie with their fellow competitors.
Tim Vincent, principal of Clinton Rosette Middle School in DeKalb, said he came to the county spelling bee to support both DeKalb school district students competing – specifically student Kaylee Zhou, who was representing Clinton Rosette.
Vincent said he watched Kaylee progress from the time she initially qualified for the school spelling bee, which included a written test, an invitation to the school spelling bee and then advancing to the county spelling bee. Kaylee made it to the seventh round of the county bee, and Vincent said he was thrilled to see her succeed.
“I’m proud of her, no matter what happens,” Vincent said. “She’s a great kid.”
Mary Mokry, a teacher at Indian Creek Middle School in Waterman, said she came to support the students from her school competing in the county bee, as well. She said she knows how important it is for teachers to come and support students at academic events such as these, and she said students have a lot to gain from participating in spelling bees.
“It instills hard work,” Mokry said. “It gives [the students] confidence, and it shows them what hard work does.”
Since Bryanna won the all-expenses trip to the national competition, she has the chance to win a $40,000 cash prize, a savings bond and several reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica and Merriam-Webster in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is scheduled for May 29 to 31.