What value is there in being a good speller?

You might think not much in today’s technology driven world where computer software alerts users to misspelled words and even auto-corrects them. But there’s more benefit than you might expect in learning how to spell correctly.

Patty Kellmann, a retired educator from Clark-Vitt Elementary in Union who serves on the planning committee for The Bee, a free regional spelling contest organized by The Missourian each spring, said studying spelling is great mental exercise for our brains.

“We all know that you can get along in the world quite successfully without being a good speller. Albert Einstein couldn’t spell well and he did all right,” she said. “Now with easy access to dictionaries and spell check, we don’t have to be as concerned about it as in the past.

“Being a good speller is a skill, just like being good at math, or good at knowing geography facts . . . Certainly, memorization of spelling words is great exercise for our brains. This surely helps in other areas of our thinking processes.

“Being a good speller ‘spells’ tenacity, determination, love of learning, and pride in one’s work . . . all good things for learners,” Kellmann noted.

One reason you can’t rely solely on spell check is homophones, words that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings — words like piece/peace, flower/flour, beech/beach, rode/road, rain/rein/reign. Spell check can’t tell you which version to use when.

And, right or wrong, correct spelling is still considered a measurement of intelligence and also reflects a person’s credibility and attitude, said Bill Miller Jr., The Missourian’s general manager.

“The importance someone puts on their spelling and grammar is synonymous with how serious they want to be taken and how credible they will ultimately be perceived by the reader,” he wrote in an editorial in 2012.

Spelling helps “develop vocabulary and an understanding of the English language that you can’t get from a computer,” he added.

The Missourian knows the value of good spelling, which is why among the inserts in today’s newspaper, readers will find a study guide to The Bee.

The guide includes the list of words that will be used in this year’s competition, as well as puzzles and games using those words, jokes (“What’s a three-letter word for mousetrap?), spelling facts (“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” This helps you remember which vowel goes first when there are two in a row. For example, tea is not tae because the vowel sounds like ‘ee.’) and, finally, fun ideas for spelling practice.

So whether you’re a student who will be competing in your school’s upcoming Bee or not, you may want to pull out the guide to learn and have fun.

Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian, who coordinates The Bee each year, says the study guide is intended to be a fun resource for all young readers, regardless of their participation in their school spelling bee.

“We’ve found that readers of all ages enjoy the special spelling section we produce,” Kitchell said, “something I discovered through all the correspondence I received one year when I had an error in a “Spelling Fact.”

Response to a Community Need

The Missourian first held The Bee in April 2011 in response to a need it saw in the community.

It used to be that local schools held spelling bees and then sent their champion on to compete in the regional Scripps spelling contest in St. Louis. Fees for that event increased, Kitchell said, preventing many schools from participating, especially once budgets were pinched in the recession.

The Missourian stepped forward and in 2010 began planning The Bee with East Central College as a partner.

Several sponsors have supported the event over the years to help The Missourian ensure participation in The Bee is free to all schools. For the past two years, hth companies inc. has been the presenting sponsor.

All participating students receive a free T-shirt, finalists receive medals and runner-up and winner receive trophies and cash prizes. This year the runner-up receives $50 and the winner receives $200.

Getting that first event together involved a good amount of research, particularly about rules and procedures, Kitchell said.

Students are required to spell their word aloud without the benefit of writing it down. They are allowed to ask for it to be repeated, for a definition and for it to be used in a sentence.

A volunteer committee of local educators has helped Kitchell plan and facilitate The Bee each year. The current committee includes Dot Schowe, East Central College; Terri Ogle, Marthasville Elementary; Jennifer Hawkins, Edgar Murray and St. Clair Junior High; Patty Kellmann, retired from Clark-Vitt Elementary; Eric Lause, St. Clair Junior High; and Jennifer Baker, Clearview Elementary.

Most have been involved with The Bee since its beginning. They volunteer to do it, because they “truly enjoy it” and because of its value to the students and community.

“The benefits . . . are twofold,” said Ogle. “First for students, they are given an opportunity to compete in an area which they excel. For the community, it is an opportunity for the community to see students working hard in an academic area.

Baker agreed.

“ . . . the competition allows students to see spelling as a meaningful subject,” she said. “With technology today, I think students should still understand the importance of being a good speller. The Bee encourages this understanding.”

The study guide, which has been offered each year, was initially created with help from East Central College students in the emerging language class.

Over 40 Schools Invited to Participate

All schools and homeschool organizations in The Missourian’s circulation area are invited to register to participate in The Bee and send their school spelling bee champion (fourth- through eighth-grade) to The Bee. A few years ago, schools served by The Missourian’s sister publication, the Warren County Record, were included as well. This year The Bee has 40 schools registered.

These schools have until Feb. 28 to hold their own spelling bee to determine a champion. They can use their own list of words or the study list provided by The Bee.

The Bee 2014 will be held Saturday, March 22, at East Central College. It will begin at 9 a.m. in the theater. The public is invited to attend.

East Central, which holds a reception afterward, has been a great partner in The Bee, said Kitchell. From the beginning, the college has generously offered the use of its theater and also provided the announcer and three judges.

ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer said it’s a natural fit for the college to support The Bee.

“We always appreciate the opportunity to have learners of any age on our campus,” he said. “For many of the youngsters the Bee is their first time on any college campus. We like to encourage participation and celebrate their achievement.

“Since our Union campus is centrally located for most of the participants, and we have adequate space, it makes sense logistically. It also gives East Central College the chance to fill a unique role in the community. Our faculty and staff members enjoy their role as judges and pronouncers. We enjoy hosting this for the students and the family, friends and teachers who support them.”

Copies of The Bee study guide are included in today’s Missourian, and teachers can request extra copies by contacting Kitchell at kitchelld@emissourian.com.

The Bee rules and word list are posted on the Missourian In Education page at www.emissourian.com.