Spell-a-bration: A New Brilla Tradition

After being at Brilla for seven years now, I am always curious to see what new initiatives will morph into Brilla traditions. I am excited to see Spell-a-bration has become one of them! This year, I had the honor of hosting Brilla College Prep’ Elementary’s (BCPE) First Annual Spell-a-bration. After being piloted at Brilla Veritas in 2019 with Kindergarten and first grade, we knew it was something we wanted to bring to our K-4 scholars at BCPE.

Mrs. Fernandez, the author of this article, warms up the audience before the spelling begins

At Brilla, scholars work hard and love to show what they know, and Spell-a-bration was no exception. Starting with an in-class spelling test, scholars were eager to spell every single word correctly, vying for a spot at the event. Scholars were given ten grade-level words to spell, which mirrored spelling patterns they have learned in class. For example, first graders spelled words with long vowels sounds, such as “TAKE” and “NOTE,” while fourth graders spelled multisyllabic words, such as “CITIZEN” and “YOUTHFUL.” From there the top five spellers from each grade (with some classes requiring tie breakers!) were invited to be a contestant in our school-wide competition.

Kindergarten participants at Brilla Veritas prepare to spell their words

On the day of the big event, teachers across the building were dressed in yellow and black wearing wacky bee antennas to build excitement for the upcoming spelling bee. As scholars transitioned from their classrooms to the Nest (large gathering place), you could feel the building buzzing with excitement. The event kicked off with twenty-five scholars on stage—five from each grade—who competed over spelling words from the official Scripps National Spelling Bee words list. We started with the youngest members of our community, kindergarten, and worked our way up to fourth grade. Scholars came up to the microphone one-by-one and were given a word to spell. Before attempting to spell the word, contestants heard the word and its definition, the word used in a sentence, and then heard the word once more. This cycle repeated until only one speller from each grade was left—the winner of that grade!

Mrs. Penalo, Ms. Rippe, and Ms. Brady pose for a photo in their “bee-autiful” costumes

What impressed me even more than the spelling capabilities of our young scholars was the amount of courage they showed throughout the event. Imagine standing in front of over four hundred people, spelling complex words—some of which you have never even heard of! Part of Brilla’s definition of courage is “finding the strength to persevere” and if you saw each of those scholars on stage that day, you would have seen them doing exactly that. As a congratulations for their hard work, each competitor was awarded a Spell-a-bration t-shirt, and our five winners earned a trophy and a $25 gift card to our Scholastic book fair!

Looking to the future, I ask myself, “What could be the next level of Spell-a-bration?” At Brilla College Prep Middle School, for example, the top Spell-a-bration contestant goes on to compete in a district-wide spelling bee—a possibility for future 3rd and 4th graders. But for now, I simply look forward to next year. I am excited to see how this new Brilla tradition will evolve and continue to inspire our young scholars to be their best selves!

Scholars at Brilla College Prep Middle School cheer for their classmates

About the Author: Calina Fernandez joined the Brilla team as a founding teacher at Brilla College Prep Elementary in 2013. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her master’s degree in childhood education along with an advanced certification in Special Education from the Relay Graduate School of Education. She later went on to complete the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education program. Mrs. Fernandez began her teaching career in Brooklyn through Teach For America and is grateful to now be working in the Bronx, the borough she has called home her entire life. She enjoys reading every interesting science article she can get her hands on and spending time with her family and friends on the weekends.

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