They are an eclectic mix of gamers, animal lovers, musicians, martial arts practitioners, and multilinguists, but a group of secondary students heading to Wellington this weekend all have one thing in common – they are New Zealand’s top spellers for 2019.
Eighteen students from Kerikeri to Dunedin will battle it out for the title of 2019 New Zealand Spelling Bee champion at the national final in Wellington on Saturday, including three students who competed in the 2018 final and are back for another attempt.
The finalists qualified out of a field of hundreds of Year 9 and 10 students from more than 100 secondary schools around New Zealand.
The rigorous competition began with a written classroom test, followed by six regional semi-finals in which the top 200 spellers competed.
Now in its 15th year, the New Zealand Spelling Bee, supported by the Wright Family Foundation, is a competitive spelling event aimed at encouraging students to gain a love of the English language. The programme improves spelling, comprehension and communication skills.
Founder Janet Lucas is expecting a tough competition this weekend – with many of the spellers focussed on the win.
“It will be an interesting final. There are some amazing spellers, some who are in the final for the second year in a row, and have worked hard to get here.
“There is an assumption that students who take part in Spelling Bees are nerds but they really are the most interesting group of young people. There are actors, martial art enthusiasts, artists, musicians, dancers, gamers and a fire spinner but they are all connected by their love of words and spelling,” says Janet.
The spellers will be treated to a banquet dinner and a tour of Parliament before competing in Saturday’s final.
The winner will receive the spelling bee trophy, $5000 towards their academic pursuits, and the coveted title of New Zealand Spelling Bee champion.
The New Zealand Spelling Bee has seen tens of thousands of students participate since it started in 2005.
Its inspiration was Spellbound, a documentary film about the US-based Scripps National Spelling Bee. In 2016 the New Zealand Spelling Bee final was televised in a TVNZ show, also called Spellbound.
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. 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.”
In addition to the National Spelling Bee for Year 9-10 students, the New Zealand Spelling Bee offers a Classroom Spelling Bee for Years 1-8.
The New Zealand Spelling Bee has grown significantly since 2014, when the Wright Family Foundation came on board as the programme’s sole sponsor, allowing it to expand into primary and intermediate schools. About 800 primary and intermediate schools now sign up for the classroom programme every year.
Wright Family Foundation chief executive Chloe Wright says the vision of the Foundation is to create articulate readers and writers who go on to higher education with confidence.
“The event has the goal of expanding children’s vocabulary and encouraging a love of language – which is something we are passionate about fostering,” she says.
Teachers interested in signing up for the programme can find out more at www.spellingbee.co.nz.