Spelling Bees Stand the Test of Time in Educating Our Kids

Marie Perry, Communications Director for the School District of Belleville

Miller Vesperman celebrates his BES Spelling Bee championship with his mom and teacher, Nicole Vesperman. Photo courtesy of Marie Perry


While technology continues to be on the rise in new and different ways as a valuable tool in education, few things replace the old-fashioned spelling bee for developing primary skills when it comes to helping students progress in their learning.  Knowing how to spell is just one of those key qualifications that unlocks so many doors as students advance and grow as learners.  Bees don’t just ask for a word to be spelled correctly.  To be a strong competitor, spelling bees require knowledge of a vocabulary term’s definition too!  Spelling not only helps build strong literacy skills, but it also helps extend one’s own vocabulary bank that proves essential as students face standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT later in their high school careers, as these exams command a strong knowledge of the English language.  In this way, bees still offer a variety of opportunities to grow as a learner.

As 2024 kicks off, Belleville elementary students in 4th-6th grade recently participated in the annual Scripps National School Spelling Bee, competing for the Belleville Elementary School (BES) championship and the opportunity to test their winning skills in the upcoming CESA 2 Regional Spelling Bee.  CESA 2 hosted that event in Stoughton on January 24th.  This year, Belleville Elementary School was excited to have Miller Vesperman advance to the regional competition as their champion from BES.  Miller is in 5th grade.

The Scripps National School Spelling Bee began in 1925 to help promote literacy.  Since then, Merriam-Webster has partnered with the Bee to put together the word list for competitors for over 50 years now and the “Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary” has become the official dictionary of the Scripps Bee.  The competition takes time for students to prepare for and helps to build self-confidence and public speaking skills.

Each year Belleville’s Advanced Learning Coordinator Kristine Killerlain plans the event with the help of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which provides the list of words to schools across the nation.  Prior to the school championship competition, students in Belleville took an online test through the Scripps National Spelling Bee Online Testing Platform which determined Belleville’s top nine finalists per grade.  After that, students prepared for the competition through study guides provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee and practiced with their classmates.  These 27 semi-finalists in grades 4-6 then went on to compete on January 18th for the championship and the chance to move on to the regional competition in Stoughton.

The act of getting up from a line of students seated in chairs and squaring off with one’s peers in front of a microphone that loudly broadcasts each answer in front of a judge and audience teaches resilience.  It also offers a common thread generationally as little has changed in how bees are run as parents of competitors reflect with their kids about their own past school experiences and spelling bees.  So much so, the film industry still continues to shed light on this long practiced educational tradition in movies like:  Bee Season (2005); Akeelah and the Bee (2006); and more recently in the Netflix documentary entitled Spelling the Dream (2020).

Kristine Killerlain notes, “Students and our community get the opportunity to celebrate academic success in spelling.  This event provides an opportunity for public speaking and academic competition.  Both the spellers and the audience often learn new words along the way.  It also is a great experience with life skills such as working through challenges, honing study skills, and displaying good sportsmanship in an academic competition.  Scripps mentions a focus on academic achievement, lifelong curiosity, and enriching communities.”

Last year was the first time since the pandemic that the event returned to an in-person competition and, as a result, it offers yet another opportunity for grade school students to work on their communication skills and practice skills in how to do their best under pressure.  For all of these reasons, the traditional spelling bee still offers a lot of relevance for students in today’s world, standing the test of time as an important educational literacy tool!