Amid bumblebees pasted on the walls and the cheers of dozens of proud parents, students from schools all throughout Harlem’s District 5 competed in the first ever superintendent’s spelling bee, held at Riverbank State Park last week.

The two-day event allowed students in grades one through five to compete on day one and those in grades six through eight to compete on day two. Community School District 5 Superintendent Gale Reeves stressed the importance of academic competitions such as the bee for Harlem students of all ages.

“Though abbreviated spelling through text and email communication are rampant in our children’s lives, spelling among academic and professional forums is still necessary,” said Reeves. “Students need to be able to meet the challenge of future career and academic goals, being well-equipped in their reading, writing and spelling abilities.”

The students in District 5 who took part in the competition June 4 and June 6 began preparations in early May, competing in individual school spelling bees to determine which students would be sent to the district-wide event. The committee responsible for hosting the event revealed that the bee, which will become an annual event, is a great way for students to engage in challenging, but friendly, academic competitions while also improving their oratorical skills and overall confidence.

All student participants received a gold medal, and the first, second and third place winners were awarded trophies. The very first winner of the bee was first grader Corey Cid from P.S. 36. “[I’m] very excited, very happy, very proud, filled with joy, but [we] worked very hard so I’m not surprised,” said his mom, Jennifer Martinez. She, like several other parents who attended the bee, was grateful that a Harlem school district recognized the need for academic competitions such as spelling bees for children in local school districts.

Janet Stewart, the teacher of third grade winner Kadiatu Bah from P.S. 200, helped to inspire her students and revealed how excited they were to learn that they would have an opportunity to compete in a spelling bee. “When they mentioned [having a bee] to my school, I let [my students] watch ‘Akeelah and the Bee,’ so they were very motivated,” she said. “Even those students who are not [the best] spellers, after watching that, they wanted to be in it.”

She expressed hope at the news that the bee is only the first in what will become an annual event. “I do hope they keep it up,” she said. “I’m just wondering what took them so long to realize that there are so many different talents in the schools.”

Reeves remains optimistic that future winners will be able to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and this does not appear to be far-fetched, as students as young as 6 years old revealed that they are willing to work hard to prepare. Second grade runner-up Brian Cespedes, from Thurgood Marshall Lower Academy, explained that he studied with his friends, family and teacher during the week leading up to the bee.

Fourth-grader Zsuriah Harvin, from P.S 154, though initially nervous, was only a little bothered by not winning the competition. “Each day I studied for like 30 minutes with my sister, [so] I’m kinda upset because I didn’t get a chance to win because they gave words I didn’t know, [but] otherwise I just feel good.”

Despite the inevitable disappointment of not winning, most parents and children were just thrilled to be able to participate. Albert Sloh, the proud father of fourth grade runner-up Alyeada Sloh, was more than adamant about the fact that the bee was not about who went home with the trophy, but the experience and the academic stimulation.

The students were quizzed on words such as agitated, hemisphere, caption, intricate, discrepancy and silo by lively, welcoming judges, including former City Council Member Robert Jackson; Kofi A. Boateng, PhD, executive director of West Harlem Development Corporation; Audrey O’Keefe of Standard and Poors–McGraw-Hill Financial; Audrey Gaul, New York education chair, NAACP; and Anthony Harmon, executive director, UFT.

The spelling bee is one of many positive initiatives geared toward stimulating the minds and improving the educational opportunities for Harlem students. Riverbank State Park officials have recognized the necessity for such events and allowed the use of the park’s Cultural Center for the bee.

“We are excited to be part of such a positive event for the community and for the school children of District 5,” said Scott Matson, operations director and acting deputy regional manager for the park. “Students, faculty and parents came to Riverbank in May to partake in ‘I Love My Park Day,’ an annuaal statewide cleanup event, and we’re delighted to deepen our relationship with the school district by partnering for the spelling bee.”

Though the sentiment is commendable, most parents would agree with Sloh. “It’s a step in the right direction, [but] it’s overdue.”