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Fourth and fifth graders file into the E.E. 'Tom' Thompson courtroom at UMKC's School of Law for the 4th annual ACE spelling bee.

Everyone is a champ

Fourth annual spelling bee on UMKC campus

In celebration of African-American History Month, 60 fourth and fifth graders from the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus gathered in the E. E. "Tom" Thompson Courtroom at UMKC’s School of Law for a spirited spell-off.

After students found their seats and the system of coming forward to the microphone was explained, they were given a brief review of the rules. Dean Ellen Suni then took the podium to offer her own words of advice. When she asked how many were excited, nervous or hopeful, every hand shot up. Next, introducing herself as the School of Law "Principal," Suni put student jitters to rest by pronouncing the assembled students all "winners."

"Why do I say that?" she queried her audience. One young lady rose and answered, "Because we try and try and try again."

"That's right," the Dean said.

They're off

And the bee, sponsored by UMKC's Schools of Education and Law, was underway. In groups of 10, students filed to the microphone on restless feet. They were advised first to listen to the pronunciation of the word and its use in a sentence. Nevertheless, some confident young scholars jumped right in as soon as the word was given, declining to wait for a sentence or ask for a definition.

Voices reflected confidence and self-assurance; those less certain spoke softly. The first eight spellers sailed through, but number 9 faltered at the word "diplomat." "Forlorn" was the next challenging word that sent several students in the first round from one side of the courtroom (round 2 competitors) to the other (out of the competition).

"Totem" proved equally tricky, and "finale" was the finale for several good efforts. Still, students and proud teachers smiled and clapped for every attempt -- classmates who were out of the running and those who were still standing. For those whose emotions proved too much, Debbie Brooks, assistant dean of admissions and multicultural affairs at the Law School, offered a kind word and a comforting pat on the shoulder.

Three-way race

Repeated rounds found the same three girls going head to head. When Asia Deggs missed a word in Round 10, Kenzi Bacchus and Kennedy Duncan continued their streak. Twenty-four rounds later – in the interest of empty stomachs, the chance to meet UMKC mascot Kasey the Kangaroo and waiting buses -- Kenzi and Kennedy were declared co-winners and Asia claimed second place. Michael Rolf's performance secured him a third place finish.

"Courtroom to Classroom," as this year's event was named, is an opportunity for the students to visit a college campus; but there are other good reasons for students to do their best. First, glittering trophies go to the finishers. A $1000 scholarship awaits any of the participants who one day enroll in UMKC’s School of Law. Finally, Kansas City Power and Light provides the first-place prize of a desktop computer, with UMKC alumnus Breman Anderson donating second and third-place prizes of laptop computers.

The Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus, a contracted school in partnership with the Kansas City, Missouri School District, is located at 3500 East Meyer Boulevard. In its second year of operation, enrollment has grown to over 700 scholars. The school prides itself on providing "excellent opportunities for accelerated learning in a culturally specific environment."

Posted: March 23, 2009

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UMKC alumnus Breman Anderson, who gathered support to make the spelling bee a reality four years ago, donated two laptops.


Trophies were awarded to the four finalists. Each contestant received a $1,000 scholarship to the School of Law.