Feb. 17, 2006 – Jake Heileman was all smiles Friday as he picked up the first place trophy at the St. Thomas-St. John district's annual spelling bee, where the top spellers from 25 local public, private and parochial schools competed against each other to win a spot in next month's territorial spelling bee.
The winner of the territorial bee – which pits the six top spellers from St. Croix against the top six from St. Thomas-St. John – will advance to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the trophy, Heileman, a 13-year-old student at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, also received a $10 gift certificate to Dockside Bookstore, an electronic dictionary and a new computer, compliments of the Education Department and Emily R. Carter, the district's insular superintendent.
"I couldn't be happier," he said after the event, which was held at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School on St. Thomas. Heileman edged out 24 other students to win the prize, including his younger brother Nicholas, a student at Joseph Sibilly Elementary.
"It was weird for us to compete against each other," Nicholas said. "But I'm glad that Jake won – he's wanted to win for a long time."
Indeed, the boys' mother, Aija Heileman, said Jake has been boning up for the bee since the fourth grade.
"He didn't win then, nor did he win when he made it to the competition in sixth grade," she said. "So, we think he really deserved to make it today. We've been practicing for this almost every night, and I'm really elated that he won. I was sitting in the back, spelling right along with him."
During the bee, Jake towered above the other contestants in height, and took his time spelling words like "celestial," which he stumbled over briefly before giving the correct answer.
"It was a little difficult for me to understand the words," Jake said after the bee. "Sometimes it sounded like the announcer was saying something completely different from what the word actually was."
Many other children seemed to have the same difficulty, and were disappointed after being eliminated for spelling the wrong word. Among those eliminated during the first round was K'Mani Dowe, a student at the Michael J. Kirwan Elementary School, who misspelled the word "porpoise."
"I thought he [the announcer] said 'purpose,'" Dowe said. "I think I could have made it farther if I had understood the word."
While Dowe did ask the announcer to use the word in a sentence, he said he became confused when the definition did not match with what was said.
Sadiya Ali, who took second place in the bee, circumvented this problem by thinking about some of the lessons she learned in school. During the second round, Ali was given the word "atoll," which was pronounced incorrectly by one of the announcers.
"When I asked for the definition, I realized that I remembered studying about atolls in science class, so I knew how it was spelled," said 9-year-old Ali.
A student at the Herbert Lockhart Elementary School, Ali will also be at the territorial bee, which will be held on St. Croix in March.
Also representing St. Thomas and St. John at the territorial bee are Jada Turbe from Nisky Moravian School; Tarik Andrew from Jane E. Tuitt Elementary; Ea' Shoy from Bertha C. Boschulte Elementary; and Jerice Lake from Seventh-Day Adventist School.
Dr. Anya Sebastien, assistant commissioner of Education, was on hand Friday to speak to the students before and after the bee.
"As far as I'm concerned, everyone sitting up here today is a winner already," Sebastien said. "It's amazing for me to be here and witness the breadth of knowledge you all have – and it's important that we keep that spirit, that willingness to learn, alive in all you."
Also speaking at the event was Amel Williams, a Seventh-Day Adventist student and the winner of her school's primary spelling bee in 2005.
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