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IPS Spelling Bee 2021 – Different, but Very Much the Same

Charles Warren Fairbanks School 105 Spelling Bee Participants

In a year where the pandemic has taken so much from students, there’s one annual tradition that found its way back into schools: the IPS districtwide spelling bee.

Although it looked differently, administrators wanted to ensure — where possible — that the spelling bee could continue in some form.

So, when Scripps, the company that hosts the national spelling bee, announced it would continue holding a modified version of the bee, IPS schools geared up to hold their school-based, qualifying rounds, a process that required teachers, staff and students to be flexible and use social distancing measures to pull it off.

Instead of following the traditional spelling bee format, where everyone sits in the same room together and contestants amble up to a microphone one at a time, they came up with a hybrid virtual solution. At Charles Warren Fairbanks School 105, they chose classroom winners, allowing virtual and in-person students to participate using the class’s teleconferencing software.

The 14 classroom winners gathered in the gym, spaced apart, and the school spelling bee was broadcast to the classes. The school’s Family and Community Engagement Liaison Tiffany Parker said the spelling bee gave students the chance to excel in an academic setting while offering fun for the whole school.

“It was so fun,” she said. “It gave them a sense of pride in themselves, and they did really well. They had so much confidence coming up there to spell a word, and so many students told me they worked hard over the weekends to learn their words.”

At the district level, students will hold their spelling bee through a portal provided by Scripps during the week of February 15. The portal is accessible from anywhere, but the student will need a “proctor,” who is in charge of reading the words and is responsible for ensuring the contest is fair. This proctor can be a parent, but IPS Family and Community Engagement Manager Jose Juarez said the district is encouraging students to have their spelling bee entry at school with a teacher or other staff member in the proctor role.

“We think it’s ideal to do it during the school day with a staff member serving as a proctor,” he said. “This will help mitigate any technical issues that a student may face.”

Students will then have the chance to be read and successfully spell as many words as they can.

Parker said in a time where normal school functions are canceled, the spelling bee is a prime example of students being able to come together, even if it’s virtually.

“Students don’t have anything to do,” she said. “There are no events. We can’t have workshops after school, we can’t have father-daughter dances, we can’t have our cookies, bingo nights or anything. This gives them something to participate in.”

And holding spelling bees in a virtual, individual setting allows schools to continue to stretch their technology muscles. “It’s a new learning experience for everyone,” Parker said. “We’re doing more in technology as it goes.”

Although the virtual districtwide bee is not formatted for public viewing, the community can celebrate the winners as they represent IPS in the Scripps Regional Spelling be on March 24, 2021. Those winners will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. For more information about the national spelling bee, please visit here.

Indianapolis Public Schools Foundation sponsored the participation of four schools in the Scripps Spelling Bee as well as awarded gift cards for the top three IPS spelling champions.