Athena Ludwig wins first Arch Ford Co-op spelling bee

By Tammy Keith Published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Winners of the inaugural Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative Spelling Bee held Thursday in Plumerville were all Perryville students. The winners are, from the left, first place, Athena Ludwig, sixth grade; second place, Jessi Harwell, eighth grade; and third place, Mason Roland, fourth grade.

PLUMERVILLE — Three Perryville students won the first Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative Spelling Bee in Plumerville.

Three schools participated in the inaugural bee on Thursday, instead of in their county spelling bees.

Sally Stuart, gifted-and-talented specialist for Arch Ford, said 18 third- through eighth-graders in the Greenbrier, Nemo Vista and Perryville school districts participated.

The first-place winner was sixth-grader Athena Ludwig, who won with the word “simile.” Second place was earned by Jessi Harwell, eighth grade, and third place by Mason Roland, fourth grade.

They opted to participate in the Arch Ford bee instead of the Perry County Spelling Bee this year.

“I didn’t want to do it to take away from the county’s [bee],” Stuart said. “I was doing it for the schools who wanted something different for their students.”

She said it’s also a less-expensive option for schools.

To be part of the Scripps Spelling Bee, which county spelling bees are, districts must pay $120 per school that participates, according to a spokesman for the national spelling bee.

For example, if a district’s elementary, middle school and junior high is participating, each school pays $120. Some districts have multiple elementary schools.

“Even when I was teaching and doing spelling bees at my school, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous the price I am paying for my kids to be in a spelling bee,’” Stuart said. She is a former Mayflower School District teacher.

Arch Ford is charging $30 per school to participate in the bee, she said. Winners will receive gift cards: $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third.

Greenbrier Junior High School counselor Amy Wilson said the decision for the district was a financial one.

She said Robin Clark, assistant principal at Wooster Elementary School, asked the counselors for their opinions.

“She contacted all of us to begin with, just because it has gotten so expensive to register for the Scripps Spelling Bee. It’s well over $100 [per school]. Really, all that gets you is a spelling bee list, to be honest,” Wilson said.

Greenbrier sent 10 students to the Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative Spelling Bee, two students per school. That would have cost $600 for the Faulkner County Spelling Bee, compared with $150 to participate in the Arch Ford competition.

Clark said Greenbrier wanted to participate the first year, at least, with the service cooperative.

“It just got so expensive; we had five schools,” Clark said. “Instead of paying that [to Scripps], we can do something at Arch Ford and give the winners a nice cash prize,” she said.

“Conway does a fabulous job with hosting that,” she said.

“We’ll see what our kids think. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do this forever.”

Stuart said there were “many other districts who wanted to participate in ours, but changed their mind and went with Scripps.”

The winner of the Arch Ford spelling bee will not be allowed to advance to the state competition because the Plumerville event is not connected to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Wilson said that although a Greenbrier student could advance to the state competition, one has not in “a while.”

Naaman Judy, GT coordinator for the Perryville district, agreed that the cost of the Perry County Spelling Bee through Scripps has become prohibitive.

“Historically — and I’ve been doing this for about eight years — when I first started, we paid, I think, a $25 fee for the district,” he said.

“It went way up over $100. Here’s the thing — when I first started, the coordinators before me, we paid that fee, and they gave us a box of supplies of spelling-bee booklets and supplies.”

Then, he said Scripps started charging $120 per school, not just for the district.

Instead of getting hard copies of the booklets, “we had to go online and print off all of our materials,” he said.

Clark said that also was expensive, printing off copies of the information for the five Greenbrier schools that participated.

Judy said he also noticed that instead of having all the words together, it had the words divided by difficulty per grade level, “which doesn’t make sense.”

The same words are given to all ages in the county spelling bees.

“A lot of it just really doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“They turned it from an educational thing to a money-making machine because you think how many schools in the state were paying $25 per district, to it jumped up over $100 a district. That was my personal gripe,” he said.

“We’re better off paying the co-op and using it as prize money and letting the kids benefit,” he said.

Chris Kemper, spokesman for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Ohio, said the cost hasn’t increased that much.

“It’s never been $25,” Kemper said. “I think our original cost was $99 – that predates my time.”

He said the fee was increased $5 from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014.

“It’s gone up incrementally every year, but it’s never been a big, huge jump,” Kemper said.

“The schools receive a great deal of educational benefit. Teachers have access to what we call a virtual bee in a box,” he said.

Through a password-protected teacher portal online, he said, teachers have “everything to run their classroom or school bee.”

Study lists are organized by grade level, he said, plus study materials for each school champion to go on to the next level.

Kemper said online materials also include the pronouncer’s guide, and “even awards certificates they can generate to give the winners.”

In addition, he said, teachers receive a free membership to Britannica Online that can be used as a prize.

“So much of the educational value is provided in those classrooms, and this is how we do it,” he said.

“We’re a year-round program, and we are run as a not-for-profit. All our revenue is funneled right back in the program. We’re not a 501(c)(3), we’re part of a for-profit media company, but we operate as a not-for-profit,” Kemper said.

He said the cost of membership hasn’t been a deterrent for most schools.

“We have tens of thousands of schools that enroll every year. We had way more new schools that enrolled this year than the previous year, so we’re continuing to grow; we’re continuing to build. The spelling bee is a slice of Americana,” he said. “We take pride in that.”

Stuart said her hope is that the Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative Spelling Bee will continue to grow, too.

Judy said other schools may be waiting to see how the Arch Ford bee goes and then jump on board.

He said if enough schools do, that might send the Scripps National Spelling Bee “a message.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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