Cairo Leonard, a third grader at Yvonne Milliner Bowsky Elementary School, capped off 24 action-packed rounds Wednesday and claimed the St. Thomas – St. John District Primary Spelling Bee championship with the correct spelling of “llama.”
The event took place in the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School Auditorium, according to a news release from the V.I. Department of Education.
Third-graders Amirah Hector of Tutu Church of God Academy and A’Shara Liburd of Calvary Christian Academy took second and third place, respectively.
“You have the courage, confidence, and competitive spirit that has allowed you to challenge yourself, and your fellow participants and become a champion speller at your school. This is only the beginning of your success,” acting Deputy Superintendent Desha Powell told the spellers at the event’s opening.
Addelita Cancryn Junior High School student Nashel Nunez sang the Star-Spangled Banner and the Black National Anthem. Luben Daniel, chairman of the Charlotte Amalie High School Music Department, then performed the Virgin Islands March on clarinet.
More than half of the 20 competitors were eliminated within the first five rounds as the words escalated in intensity, including such challenges as such as “surprise,” “parallel,” “schedule,” and “ratio.”
Halfway through the competition Liburd misspelled “terrace,” leaving Hector and Leonard to vie for the title. The two battled for 12 more rounds before Hector misspelled “quotient,” allowing Leonard to secure the title with the word “llama.”
Sophia Neille, Cairo’s coach and English as a Second Language teacher, said she was proud of her student’s success.
“We practiced words for 20 minutes daily during his lunch breaks. Cairo is very talented and would quickly pick up new words from various subjects. His parents were also very involved, and parental involvement really makes a world of difference in helping our students to be successful,” Neille said.
All Spelling Bee participants received personalized dictionaries, trophies, and certificates from the STTJ District. The top six spellers also received word puzzle books and board games.
Although there is no territorial competition, Primary Spelling Bee and Elementary Programs coordinator Kalamis Maduro sees the competition as preparation for the intermediate Bee, in which the top speller in the territory is identified.
“I think the primary bee is a big boost of confidence in our students,” started Maduro. “Besides, it’s a big push on vocabulary, and that’s the goal of the spelling bee, to promote literacy – with a side of friendly competition.”
Joining Leonard, Hector and Liburd as the top six primary school spellers in the St. Thomas – St. John District are Ze’Yah Francis of Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School, Kai-Lan Leatham of Ulla F. Muller Elementary School, and Yaliya Felix of Joseph Sibilly Elementary School.