Months of training will come to a head for Otumoetai College’s Caitlin Reid next month, when she takes on 18 of the country’s top spellers to compete for the coveted title of 2018 New Zealand Spelling Bee champion.
Caitlin won her place out of a field of hundreds of Year 9 and 10 students, from more than 100 secondary schools and colleges around New Zealand.
The rigorous ‘competition against the dictionary’ began with a written classroom test, which identified the top 200 spellers that would go head-to-head in six hotly-contested regional semi-finals around New Zealand.
On November 3, the top students from each region will face off at the tension-filled national final in Wellington, with the winner receiving the Spelling Bee trophy and $5000 towards their academic pursuits.
Now in its 14th year, the New Zealand Spelling Bee, supported by the Wright Family Foundation, is a competitive spelling event aimed at encouraging Year 0 to 10 students to gain a love of the English language.
The programme improves spelling capabilities, comprehension and communication skills.
Spelling Bee founder Janet Lucas is expecting a tough competition – with many of the spellers taking an extremely competitive stance and working hard.
“It will be an interesting final,” says Janet. “There are some amazing spellers - some who are in the final for the second year in a row - and many of them really want to win and have worked hard to get here.
“One of the things that’s great about the Spelling Bee is that anyone can take part. Money is no barrier, which makes it fair and equal for everyone.
“Our sponsorship from the Wright Family Foundation means that the finalists win airfares and accommodation for themselves and a parent or caregiver to travel to the final, so successful students don’t have to fundraise to get there.
“All the resources are free, so long term our hope is that every school will take part as there is no cost to it. We want it to be accessible to everyone and make it easy for teachers to include spelling in their classroom programme.”
Janet says it’s a fallacy that in the age of spellcheck, knowing how to spell is not important.
“It’s actually more important than ever,” she says. “By widening word knowledge, children are better able to understand and enjoy language, be it online, spoken or in print.
“Lack of communication skills is at the root of so many problems in society. The Spelling Bee aims to increase vocabulary, leading to effective communication skills and a person’s ability to express themselves.
“The fact that the Bee grows every year proves the demand for a sport with a more intellectual focus – one that is competitive and challenging in a fun way.”
The Bee encompasses two programmes: the New Zealand Classroom Spelling Bee (Years 0 to 8), and the New Zealand Spelling Bee (Years 9 and 10).
The competition has grown significantly since 2014, when the Wright Family Foundation came on board as the programme’s sole sponsor.
The foundation’s support secured the event’s future, resourcing it so that the programme could be expanded into primary and intermediate schools. About 800 primary and intermediate schools now sign up every year.