Stedman Elementary School students gathered onstage in the final week of February to compete in the annual Spelling Bee. Fourth grader Kade Norheim won the Bee, and fifth grader Rebel McGrath took second place.

Twelve kids from grades three, four, and five stood in the spotlight of the Petersburg Middle and High School auditorium. 

Sue Paulsen is the master of ceremonies, as well as the President of the Friends of the Petersburg Libraries and a retired librarian for the local high school. She opened the event with a speech — the same one she gives at the Bee every year.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Paulson, “Welcome to the annual Spelling Bee. The Spelling Bee has been popular in our country since the days of Abraham Lincoln in the log school house — it’s one way that we practice how to spell correctly. We do it at our school because it’s so important. Because that means when people read our writing, they understand what we’re trying to say.”

Paulsen conducts the competition in a series of single elimination rounds. The kids who spell their word correctly get to remain onstage, though the audience can’t applaud participants after a correctly-spelled word. Paulsen instructed them to remain completely silent until the end of each round, as to not distract the spellers.

At the end of each round, Elementary School Librarian Jill Lenhard leads the kids who misspelled their word offstage and hands them a snack. That’s when the audience can applaud them — as they exit.

By the 15th round, fourth grader Kade Norheim was the last kid standing. He spelled final word, “constant,” correctly and with ease.

Jill Norheim and twelve elementary students are gathered on a stage. Norheim hands a young girl a certificate.
Jill Lenhard presented a certificate to each of the twelve students who participated in the Spelling Bee.

However, neither finalist said they spent much time memorizing lists of words. Rebel McGrath from fifth grade won second place and attributes her success to her spelling intuition. 

“I didn’t even study the words for our class Spelling Bee,” said McGrath. “So it’s kind of lucky that I even got on the stage. I was super pumped about that. And I was like — if I can just wing it, and go against kids who were studying for weeks, I could probably go on stage. But I definitely had fun. That’s what you have to remind yourself. Like, this isn’t supposed to be scary — it’s supposed to be fun. It’s not like a, you lose, you die kind of situation. It’s just a fun challenge.”

First place winner Kade Norheim chalks up his success to his love of literature. His advises other kids who want to become Spelling Bee champions to read challenging books. 

“They should read a bunch of big books that don’t have pictures,” said Norheim. “Because in those books, you can probably find bigger words. And it can take you a little bit to figure them out. But after you do, it only takes like 20 seconds to figure out how to pronounce it and to figure out how to spell it.”

That’s a W-R-A-P wrap on the students who participated in a time-honored Petersburg School District tradition — the annual Spelling Bee.