Star Spellers Compete at 2019 Pali Bee

Palisades Charter High School was abuzz Sunday, February 10, during the annual Pali Bee, where a colony of frenzied spellers tackled some un-bee-lievably tough words like “xylem,” “esophagus” and “hippopotamus.”
This year’s event, made possible by the support of Amalfi Estates and Groza Learning Center, provided a little sunshine on a rainy day as kids in rubber boots and raincoats lined up to test their spelling mettle.
“It’s great to see everyone here today,” Amalfi Estates owner Anthony Marguleas said at the Bee. “Great job everybody.”
“We are honored to be here today,” Groza Learning Center Director Tatyana Yukhtman said to the crowd. “Congratulations and good luck to all the competitors.”
Parents and kids enjoyed snacks and doughnuts courtesy of General Porpoise and Hello Honey while getting ready. Younger siblings ran around and played with Legos and other games provided by the Academy of Technology, Art and Music (ATAM) while parents registered their competitors, giving them quick pep talks and running them through gauntlets of grandiloquence.

Sampling treats from General Porpoise and Hello Honey

“I’ve been practicing a lot,’” Oceane Auckland, a Seven Arrows Elementary School first-grader, said before the Bee. “Especially ‘wrong.’ Sometimes I get ‘wrong’ wrong.”
“I feel excited,” said Charlie DeFrancisco, a first-grader at John Thomas Dye School who took third place at the Bee. “I’ve been practicing every night, plus I read a lot.”
Gilbert Hall was a hive of activity as spellers with safety-pinned numbers on their shirts waited for the competition to begin.
As heavy rain began to fall throughout the morning session, competitors in grades one through three gathered to complete a written test of 30 words.
Victorious students marched onward to the next gladiatorial spectacle.
Students, parents, siblings, teachers and spelling enthusiasts gathered excitedly for the oral rounds of competition in Gilbert Hall, beginning with grades one and two.
St. Matthew’s teacher Dana Berlin, John Thomas Dye School teacher Maureen Sweeney and Tim Schneider of Schneider Publishing served as judges and word pronouncers for the morning session oral competition.
After an introduction and a brush-up on the rules from Pali Bee host and Palisades Charter Elementary School Principal Gary Saunders, the event was ready to bee-gin.
“I’m so excited to BEE here!” Saunders said. “It’s great to see all the parents, grandparents, neighbors and kids here, too. As a principal I know the value of spelling and language in our everyday life, whether you’re sending a text or writing a book report.”
The 10 students that advanced in the first grade were each given 45 seconds to spell five words, with basic words like “see” and “king” and some curveballs like “report,” “spoil,” “would,” “weather” and “camping.”
In first grade, DeFrancisco took third place, Liliana Hires took second and Jordan Miller finished in first.
The top 10 advancing second-graders took the stage next. Competition heated up quickly with words like “harvest,” “recess,” “gall,” “purr,” “offend,” “beets,” “cosmic,” “lobby” and “whistle.”
The final three winners in second grade were, in third place, Hadley Poolman, in second place, Nathaniel Steinsapir, and in first place, Lucas Merrill.
“We practiced a lot over the last few days. I’m very excited—I didn’t expect to win,” Miller shared after the Bee.
“It feels very good to win,” Merrill said. “I was writing 50 words on Friday. I’ve been doing 10 or 20 words every day. I was really hoping I would be number one—it’s like a dream come true. I’m going to do something special to celebrate with my family. I’m really excited.”
In the afternoon, students in grades three through five filed into Pali High, starting with their written test, whittling the spellers in each grade down to 10.
Corpus Christi School Principal Suzanne Stewart Duffy, John Thomas Dye School teacher Sigita Newsom and Seven Arrows Elementary School teacher Anne Petrosino served as the judges, accompanied by special guest word pronouncer Alan Smolinisky, owner of the Palisadian-Post.
“Some of these words I don’t even know!” Smolinisky joked at the Bee.
Competitors in the third grade had some tough words like “affluent,” “exuberant,” “electric” and “accelerate.”
The final three winners in the third grade were, in third place, Abigail Yoda, in second place, Samara Gottlieb, and, in first place, Yun Kim. Kim and Gottlieb duked it out in an overtime tiebreaker, with words like “cellar” and “isosceles.”
Fourth-graders got words like “sapling,” “banquet,” “fend,” “hypothesis” and “circuit.”
The final three winners in the fourth grade were, in third place, Giles Freedman, in second place, Matteo Duffy-Seidenwerg, and, in first place, Hanna Shin.
Duffy-Seidenwerg and Shin went word-for-word in a final round overtime tiebreaker with words like “synchronize” and “cherub.”

Cheering on spellers

Words for the fifth graders included “radish,” “taut,” “scaffolding,” “capillary,” “restaurant,” “frayed” and “ambidextrous.”
The final three winners of the fifth grade, competing this year in their final Pali Bee were, in third place, Jakob Heindel, in second place, Carly Crane, and, in first place, Asa Stratmann.
Stratmann and Heindel went word-for-word in a final round tiebreaker as well, with words like “anniversary” and “silhouette.”
“I just want to say, we were standing in the back and watching. Those are a lot of hard words, you guys,” Co-Honorary Mayor of the Palisades Janice Crystal told the crowd at the awards ceremony on Sunday, taking the stage with Billy. “You all did great. I wish everybody could win, but next year too, right? Come back again!”
Stratmann made history this year winning her fifth consecutive Pali Bee in a row. The stellar speller began her career tackling three-letter words and has since mastered words that would make adults reach for the spellcheck on their phones.
“It feels really good to get first,” Stratmann said. “I practiced a lot. It’s my last Bee this year—I really don’t know what I’m going to do to celebrate.”