Bahamas National Spelling Bee Champion Donovan Aaron Butler is congratulated by Oswald T Brown after he correctly spelt his third round word at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday.
Photo: Elisabeth Ann Brown
By OSWALD T BROWN
ALTHOUGH he did not advance to the finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Bahamians have every reason to be proud of the remarkable performance of Bahamas National Spelling Bee Champion Donovan Aaron Butler in the highly competitive annual competition at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbour, Maryland, near Washington DC this week.
An indication of just how challenging is the longest running educational promotion in the United States is the fact that among the 284 spelling champions that participated in this year’s competition, one was competing for a fourth time, eight for a third year and 61 making their second appearance.
Donovan, a 13-year-old eighth grade student at St Augustine’s College, did well in spelling the two words given to him in the preliminary rounds - ‘azulejo’ and agribusiness’ - but he did not score high enough in the written test to be included among the 45 finalists after the scores of the written test were combined with those from the two spelling rounds.
Since it was introduced by the Scripps National Spelling Bee several years ago as part of its elimination process, the written test has been the Achilles heel of Bahamian spellers, as was the case last year when Bahamas champion Charles Hamilton, then a 12-year-old eighth-grade student at St Anne’s School, also correctly spelt his two preliminary words, but did not make the finals because he did not score high enough in the written test.
However, Hamilton’s outgoing personality and witty on-stage comments, one of which resulted in him being featured on the “Good Morning America” television show, has enshrined him in Scripps National Spelling Bee folklore, with a photo of him promoting this year’s Spelling Bee in the hallway outside the convention center where this year’s competition was held.
Given the fact that Bahamian spellers are having a hard time doing well in the written test, as the individual responsible for introducing the Scripps Spelling Bee to The Bahamas when I was Editor of the Nassau Guardian in 1998, I would like to suggest that the Ministry of Education make a serious effort to implement a proposal I made while I was still involved in helping to stage the Bahamas National Spelling Bee.
What I suggested at the time was that the Ministry establishes Spelling Bee Clubs in all of our public schools as an extracurricular activity and organise end-of-term spelling competitions for them. If it is true, and I certainly think it is, that spelling encourages students to read more, surely such an activity would vastly improve the anemic “D” average performance by far-too-many students in our schools. What’s more, as my journalistic mentor Sir Arthur Foulkes repeatedly told me while encouraging me to read more when he was City Editor at The Tribune in the early 1960s and I was a young reporter, “Reading is the basis of all knowledge”.
Of course, there is a body of opinion that many of today’s teachers are not as committed to imparting knowledge to students in their classrooms as teachers in The Bahamas once were and would not volunteer their time to supervise Spelling Bee Clubs for an hour or so after school. Assuming this is true, then the Ministry should make a commitment to pay them for their after-school work. If there is no money in the budget for such an activity, then an organised appeal should be made to caring people in the business community to raise the necessary funds for this effort on an annual basis.
Everyone involved in education agrees that the National Spelling Bee has had a tremendous impact on the educational system in The Bahamas over the years and every year we have produced some excellent spellers. But none of our champions has yet to make it to the Scripps finals. By contrast, Jamaica’s champions have made it to the finals just about every year and its 1998 champion, Jody Anne Maxwell, was the overall winner.
At the very least, I hope that Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald meets with the people at his Ministry who have responsibility for organising The Bahamas National Spelling Bee and get their input into whether they think Spelling Bee Clubs would help to more The Bahamas’ programme to another level.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is administered on a not-for-profit basis by the EW Scripps Company and local spelling bee sponsors in the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe; also The Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. Its primary purpose is “to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives”.
Oswald T Brown is the Press, Cultural Affairs and Information Manager with the Embassy of The Bahamas in Washington, DC.