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Preparing for the bee

There’s a real sense of optimism as we head into the new year, and much of that has been brought on by the rapid rollout of the vaccinations that we hope will, sometime in the next six months or so, allow us to resume many of the activities that up until last year had been staples in our communities and our lives.

The list of events and activities that didn’t happen last year is so long, in fact, that if you sat down and tried to sort it out, it would become easier just to list the presentations that actually have been held.

Among those events that were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic was the Jefferson-Harrison County Regional Spelling Bee, Presented by the Herald-Star.

Postponed just a day or so before it was scheduled to be held last March, the bee organizers and the area students who had qualified were left wondering what would happen next while officials at the regional and national levels continued to work in an attempt to find a way to make the event happen.

Sadly, the Scripps National Spelling Bee eventually had to be canceled, and the regional bee shortly followed suit.

Those decisions created holes for a couple of longtime traditions. While the national bee was not held for the first time since 1945, the regional bee was not held for the first time since 1985. That’s when the Herald-Star and local educators joined forces to ensure that local students had the opportunity to participate in the event.

Postponing and then canceling the bees were tough decisions, just like every other choice that was made to scrap an event that had been scheduled for last year. Locally, they meant the 50 or so spellers and alternates who had worked to earn their spots would not have an opportunity to advance to the national bee. That was especially disappointing for those who were competing for the last time before their eligibility ran out.

Officials with the bee have said that the 93rd national bee will be held this year. And while many of the details still have to be worked out, Scripps has said it will be held June 1-3 at National Harbor, Md.

And that means area students have been working hard since school resumed to prepare for the school and district bees that will lead up to this year’s regional spelling bee, which has been scheduled for March 13 at Buckeye North Elementary School in Brilliant.

Just like everything else in our lives, how the qualifiers for that event will be chosen will look a little different from what we have come to expect in the past.

Harrison Central and Indian Creek, for example, are still planning to have face-to-face spelling bees to determine their participants, as will the Heart of Mary Home School Association. Buckeye Local would like to have a face-to-face bee, but will make a decision once school resumes. Toronto will likely have a written bee, and Steubenville City Schools will split its bee into two parts, one for the students at Harding Middle School and one for the students at Bishop John King Mussio Junior High School.

Credit for making sure the program runs smoothly, especially in such interesting times, rests with the coordinators in each school district and in each building, as well as Ron Sismondo, the director of curriculum and professional development at the Jefferson County Educational Service Center, who is the longtime coordinator. Their efforts, and the continuing support of many area businesses, ensure that the bee remains among the top educational programs in the region.

And, while the run-up to the regional and national bees will have a different look and feel, the goals of the program — helping students to improve their spelling, improving their vocabularies, learning concepts and developing correct English usage that will help them all of their lives — will continue to be met.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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