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Students put their spelling skills to the test

Dodge Middle School students spell Cleave during a preliminary round of the district's spelling bee.

A collective sigh of relief passed through the choir room at Dodge Middle School around 8:15 a.m. Tuesday morning. They had made it this far. They'd go on to Thursday's competition.

"They" are the 12 DMS students who made it through the preliminary round of the school's spelling bee. These dozen students will join nine Boeckman Middle School students for the District 192 competition Thursday afternoon.

The spelling bee isn't new to District 192, said advisor Patricia Smith, but it's gotten more and more popular over the years. Thirty seven students signed up for this year's bee, which meant Smith had to hold preliminary rounds at both Dodge Middle School and Boeckman Middle School.

The bee's popularity has increased, in part, because it used to be held as an after-school program but is now included as an option for Tiger Time. Working with the gifted and enhanced learning students in both schools, Smith had the opportunity to reach out to students in grades 6-8.

"Spelling bee was one of those activities. We invited certain students, but this (year) was open to anyone who was interested," she said.

She invited kids to participate in several ways, from school televisions and over the daily school announcements to sending emails to language arts teachers, asking them to pass them along to students. In a few cases, Smith sought out students directly.

"I think I twisted a few arms," she said. "Some kids are a little shy, but when you say to them, 'You don't have a choice, you'd be good at this,' they feel better about it."

Preliminary rounds in the spelling bee were meant to narrow the field to four students from each grade level at each school for a total of 24 students, but Boeckman was short on a couple of seventh- and eighth grade participants, so only 21 are participating in Thursday's final round.

The spelling bee is set up to follow rules established by Scripps National Spelling Bee. Students get a number of materials to help them prepare for the bee, but there is no guarantee as to which words they'll be asked to spell during the competition. All of the words used during competition have been selected by Scripps.

At the bee, each student is given his or her own word to spell. Rules say students can repeat the word to make sure they understand it before they begin to spell the word - for instance, "plague" and "flag" might sound alike but spelling one instead of the other would be a costly mistake. Students can write out the words before spelling them, but once they say a letter, that letter is out there, even if the student realizes it is wrong.

"Once you have said a letter, you can't take it back," Smith said.

When the student is done with the word, he or she repeats it in full to indicate he or she is finished. It's all part of a procedure established by Scripps, and that's what Smith has worked on with students over the past few weeks. Since the words are assigned at random, it's not easy to practice spelling with them, so they focus on the procedure instead so students are comfortable with that aspect of the competition.

That's not to say students can't prepare for the spelling portion. Scripps gives out a booklet of words used on a regular basis. The students can get familiar with those words, and Smith has provided several websites designed to help kids with spelling.

"Some of them are just good spellers and they don't need to study," she said.

Last year's champion was a sixth grade girl who is back in the competition this year. She competed against older kids but still came out as the local winner. Farmington's winner can advance to a regional competition. This year's regional event will be held March 10 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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