Although Caroline Johansen didn’t have to spell the word “illustrious” at the Saugerties District-wide spelling bee, it certainly describes her and the skills that won her a seat at the upcoming regional bee in Schenectady.
Caroline, a Grade 4 student at Morse Elementary School, was crowned the top speller in the Saugerties School District in a 10-round bee held Jan. 13 at the High School library. The event featured seven spellers in Grades 4 through 6 from all four elementary schools as well four spellers from Grades 7 and 8 at the Junior High School. The elementary school students, who won their classroom and school competitions, also took part in an elementary bee in December. The junior high school students were all winners of their class contests.
Participating from the elementary schools were: Caroline Johansen, Asmir Ayaz, and Liam Curtis of Morse; Mia Bourguignon of Mt. Marion; Austin Buley and Sophia Kamrass of Cahill; and Ilana Numssen of Riccardi. Spelling on behalf of Saugerties Junior High School were Grade 8 student Erica Helmedach and Grade 7 students Rebecca Naccarato, John Skiff, and Grace Tytus.
The students proved that they had prepared well for the competition, facing down challenging words like “gluttonous” and “aphasia” without batting an eye. Second-place finisher Mia Bourguignon, a Grade 5 Mt. Marion student who will also attend the regional bee, breezed right through “anthropomorphic,” while Liam Curtis not only properly capitalized the “P” in “Pavlovian,” but also politely remembered to use another “P” word – “please” – when asking the judges for a definition. In addition to her spelling skills, Caroline also demonstrated her compassion when she reached out to hug her longtime friend Sophia Kamrass when “stethoscope” took Sophia out of the running.
Teaching assistant Theresa Costello, who organized the bee, said of all the students, “It’s a big deal for them to reach this level. It shows they have a certain academic talent.”
Caroline, meanwhile, says she never dreamed she would win. An avid dancer who studies ballet and tap and also enjoys sports, Caroline devoted some time every day to preparing for the competition. By the weekend before the bee, she had progressed to practicing words according to their ethnic origin.
“I was studying Slavic words, Arabian words,” she said.
Mia used a computer program that helped her make quick work of words like “lucrative” and “schism.” In the end, she was tripped up by “honcho.”
“I was thinking s-h-o-w at the end,” said Mia, who is a cheerleader and also enjoys swimming.
Morse principal Don Dieckmann said he was “elated” that Caroline will be taking part in the regional bee.
“As a principal, I couldn’t be prouder,” he said. “We had great representation from all the students.”
Caroline’s mother, Heather Johansen, agreed.
“It’s fabulous,” she said. “I’m so happy for [Caroline] and all the students.”
As representatives of Saugerties, Caroline and Mia will be among only a small number of Ulster County students attending the regional spelling bee. Highland and Marlboro are the only other districts in the county sending spellers to the event, which is slated for February 11 at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.