, Derry, New Hampshire

January 31, 2013

Derry students excel with words

Twins place first, second in spelling bee

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — They were seeing and spelling double.

A pair of sixth-grade twins took the top spot and second-place finish in West Running Brook Middle School’s annual spelling bee last week, giving the duo’s friends and family a big dose of brotherly love with words.

Kyle Setzer, 11, came out on top with the school’s spelling crown. Brother Ryan took second place.

Language arts teacher Patti O’Neil did the honors and read each word carefully to the contestants.

“And I am the mother of twins, so I can only imagine,” she said when Setzer boys were left standing.

Proud family members sat watching the final round.

“I had them over to my house to practice,” grandmother Joan Hause said.

Karen and Barry Setzer said having devoted grandparents to help the boys study made a big difference. That practice gave the twins the upper edge when it came to words like “contemporaneous.”

The word eventually derailed Ryan’s spelling hopes; brother Kyle then went on to master “manageability” for the big win.

Spelling bees were held at schools all over the district. The middle school bees seemed to be marathon contests lasting for more than an hour.

There were more than 20 rounds completed at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School as two girls — sixth-grader Erin Valashinas and returning two-time eighth-grade champ Jasmine Cuenca — battled for the win.

Erin thought about each of her words, often spelling them out on her pant leg with her finger. She took deep breaths, then breezed through the letters.

Jasmine kept up the momentum with hardly a vocabulary flinch. Words got harder and came fast and furious.

Language arts teacher Ross McLean manned the microphone to give students the officials words to spell.

Sitting nearby for moral support and literary expertise were assistant principal Susan Gualtieri and language arts teacher Kate Burke. Anytime a student needed a bit more information, an origin or a sentence, they were there to help.

McLean was running out of words, due to the duration of the contest that started at 2 p.m.

“This is highly unanticipated,” McLean said.

By 3:15 p.m., he was asking for more.

Hood principal Austin Garofalo said he was impressed with the level of words the students mastered.

“It is a talent,” he said. “We’re now getting to a list of words I never heard of.”

Words like maelstrom, capitulation, triumvirate and melange proved no match for Erin and Jasmine.

In the end, it was the word “mariachi” that gave Jasmine the upper hand on the letter board after Erin misspelled the word “vibrato.”

All top middle school spellers said they liked to spell and practiced hard for the contest.

“My teacher makes it fun,” Kyle said.

His twin agreed and said knowing how to spell carries over into other schoolwork at West Running Brook.

“It really helps when I write stories,” Ryan said.

Having strong spelling skills is something that students should strive for, West Running Brook assistant principal Lorrie Belinsky said.

“Especially in this age of the spellcheck,” she said.

Both Jasmine and Kyle will now advance to the next level of competition.