Bee tests kids' spelling, nerves - Catholic Courier
Isabel Jones, a sixth-grader at Pittsford's St. Louis School, spells a word during the third-annual Sister Mary Smith Invitational Spelling Bee at St. Mary School in Canandaigua March 16. Isabel went on the win the competition. Isabel Jones, a sixth-grader at Pittsford's St. Louis School, spells a word during the third-annual Sister Mary Smith Invitational Spelling Bee at St. Mary School in Canandaigua March 16. Isabel went on the win the competition.

Bee tests kids’ spelling, nerves

CANANDAIGUA — There was complete silence in the crowded gymnasium as Katie Ronsivalle stared up at the ceiling. Dozens in the audience appeared to hold their breaths as they watched the sixth-grader stand at the podium, her lips barely moving as she silently worked out the correct spelling of the word "environment."

Seconds earlier, Katie had taken the podium during the fifth round of the 2011 Sister Mary Smith Invitational Spelling Bee, which was held March 16 at St. Mary School in Canandaigua. She started the word with confidence, and spelled "e-n-v-i-r" before pausing to consider her options. After several seconds she finished the word, spelling out "o-n-m-e-n-t" in a rush."

"Correct," said Sister Margaret Mancuso, the bee’s official pronouncer.

Katie’s mom, Karen Ronsivalle, grinned at her daughter as the girl took her seat on the stage, relief evident on her face. Safe for another round.

A similar miniature drama was played out each time a new student walked to the microphone and began to spell. Sister Mancuso, coprincipal at Rochester’s Nazareth Elementary School, said she was impressed by the poise shown by the students, who represented 14 Catholics schools throughout the Diocese of Rochester. They managed to keep their nerves in check and focus on spelling, which surely was not an easy feat, the Sister of St. Joseph said.

"I really give these kids a lot of credit. It’s one thing to be in competition with your own school, but to be with peers that you don’t know and see your family holding their breath … I give them a lot of credit," said Sister Mancuso, former assistant diocesan superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"I was scared, really, really nervous," admitted Katie, who attends Holy Family Middle School in Elmira. Katie and the 13 other contestants and 14 alternates all qualified for the bee by winning their own schools’ spelling bees.

"I was really nervous at first, but when I got up there my nervousness went away," noted Rod Beideman, a sixth-grader at Rochester’s St. John Neumann School.

Unfortunately, parents’ nerves did not improve much after the contestants walked onstage, according to Rod’s parents.

"It was gut-wrenching," said his father, Jeff Beideman.

"It could be a little bit nerve-wracking, but it was fun just to watch all the kids," added Dianna Beideman, Rod’s mother.

Hopefully the children were able to have fun and enjoy the evening as well, said Ann Marie Deutsch, principal at St. Mary School. The looks on the contestants’ faces at the beginning of the bee could hardly be mistaken for expressions of pleasure, she acknowledged, but by the end of the evening most students were smiling. Several of the contestants from different schools mingled during a small reception held after the competition, and such relationship-building was one of the evening’s goals, Deutsch said.

"I think it’s very important that we offer the kids the opportunity to get together with other children from Catholic schools," she said. "It lets the children see competition outside of their own school, what it feels like when they’re out in the world."

The annual spelling bee, which was started more than 20 years ago at St. Boniface School in Rochester, also shines the spotlight on students whose talents otherwise might not be highlighted.

"Some kids get sports awards, some kids excel in the arts, and some kids are more academic," Sister Mancuso said.

Participants and spectators alike traveled to Canandaigua from all corners of the diocese. St. John Neumann was one of eight Monroe County schools represented at the bee, and the others were Cathedral School at Holy Rosary, Rochester; Mother of Sorrows School, Greece; Nazareth Elementary, Rochester; St. Joseph, Penfield; St. Louis, Pittsford; St. Pius Tenth, Chili; and St. Rita, Webster. Holy Family was one of three Southern Tier schools to participate; the others were St. Ann School in Hornell and St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads. Students from three Finger Lakes schools — St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, St. Mary in Canandaigua, and Ss. Peter and Paul School in Auburn — also took part.

The first round of the spelling bee started off with such relatively straightforward words as airplane and income. By the seventh round, however, the students were tackling such words as carburetor, and by the 11th round there were just two contestants left: fifth-grader Christina Samodal from St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads and sixth-grader Isabel Jones from St. Louis School in Pittsford. After Christina incorrectly spelled inhibition, Isabel Jones took a shot at the word and spelled it correctly.

With that, all that stood between Isabel and victory was the word "arrangement." She’d barely finished correctly spelling it when applause erupted from the audience, and Isabel flushed and threw her hands over her mouth in surprise. She recovered quickly, however, and stood behind the podium beaming as the applause continued.

"I’m just really shocked because I didn’t know what was going to happen," Isabel said after the bee. "When I saw all the people I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I have so much competition,’ but I thought with all the practice I definitely had a chance."

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