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Brady: Champion speller dreams of G-A-R-G-A-N-T-U-A-N success

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Brady Bowers and Shannon Dunham
Kent ISD
Brady Bowers and Shannon Dunham

When Brady Bowers heard the word “quadrilateral” he knew he was headed to Washington. Bowers won the Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee setting him up for a spot on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June, an achievement made possible with support found at school

Host Joy Walczak from Kent ISD speaks with Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee Champion Brady Bowers and Administrative Assistant Shannon Dunham of North Rockford Middle.

Joy Walczak: Welcome to the Your Dream is Our Dream Podcast where we celebrate student success one dream at a time. This program is made possible by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU. I'm Joy Walczak and I have with me today, Brady Bowers, the winner of the Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee and a 7th grade student at North Rockford Middle School. And I also have administrative assistant and host of the district and regional spelling bees at North, Shannon Dunham. Thanks so much to both of you for joining me in studio today.

Shannon Dunham: Thank you for having us

Brady Bowers: Thank you

JW: Brady, I first wanted to say congratulations! What a great achievement. You recently competed for with 16 of the top spellers from all over West Michigan in the Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee and you came out on top. Tell us what this win means to you and why you love spelling.

BB: This is very exciting to represent North Rockford Middle School and the West Michigan community at the National Spelling Bee. I've loved spelling since a very young age. I got these flash cards when I was about four years old and I loved looking at them because they are big words and big words are very cool. A few years later, I got a calendar with words on it. It was a word-of-the-day calendar represented by Scripps. It had words I never heard before and I wanted to use that word every single day in a sentence sometime during my day. I love spelling just because it's something different that not many people seem to enjoy.

JW: Well, I think it sounds like you have been doing this for a long time and obviously it set you up for a lot of success. It's really cool to see you continuing this dream, Shannon. I'm sure that you and the whole North Rockford Middle School community are just bursting with pride at Brady's accomplishments. But you've been encouraging and supporting many students in the spelling bee experience. Can you share with us briefly how this works and why it's an important and educational pursuit for young learners?

SD: Sure. We are all super proud at North of Brady. It's really exciting. So, I signed up to be the coordinator for annual spelling bee which we hold every year at school. And then, in talking with my principal, we decided it would be a good idea to hold an after-school club, Spelling Bee club, just to give the kids maybe a little edge on how spelling bees work and practice the words together. I then held the spelling bee. Brady won that bee which he qualified for the regional. I offered to host the regional bee in our building - they were looking for schools - so we had North and eight other schools come to our building. I coordinated that and Brady, of course, won that and then went on to the Greater Grand Rapids Bee. And there's so much more than just learning spelling words. You learn a more extensive vocabulary. You become a better reader. It’s a self-confidence builder. So, it's way more than just memorizing spelling of words.

JW: That's very true. And Brady, why don't you tell us a little bit about your process and preparing to achieve the dream of getting to the national level of the spelling competition, which is where you're going next? Maybe you can give us some examples of how you learn words.

BB: Yes, there are many ways that you can prepare for a spelling bee. I enjoy making flashcard sets. The National Spelling Bee is very different from other spelling bees. Most spelling bees at the regional level have a study list, the Words of the Champions list. The first two rounds of the National Spelling Bee also have that list. But the rest have the Merriam Webster's Unabridged Dictionary as the source. So, it's better to learn the root words and etymologies, and there's also an App, the Word Club App. that can help you learn the spelling and vocabulary for words as well.

JW: It's terrific that there's an app for that - of course there is, right? So, Shannon, we often think of teachers who influence our students, who lead classrooms, maybe are experts in certain subjects. But really, there are so many people in a school community that help our students learn and achieve. Can you tell us about your role and how the community at Rockford encourages students like Brady to dream big in this pursuit and others?

SD: . All staff at our building are encouraged to participate in children's success. Whether it's hosting after-school clubs or working at sporting events, we're all encouraged to be involved and we offer a lot of what we call co-curricular activities. Of course, we have a wide variety of sports, our music and art program, but we have a lot of after-school clubs to get everybody involved in something. It could be Spelling Bee club, which is, I would say, our most academic club. But we also have Bowling Club, Drama Club, Cooking Walking, Photography, Legos. It could be anything. We just really want everyone to feel included, make new friends, get to know the staff. So, it's a win-win for everybody. And we think it's really essential for student success just to feel more connected at school.

JW: Absolutely. Brady, can you tell us how your education and Ms. Dunham’s support have helped you achieve your dreams of winning the spelling bee?

BB: Well, the Spelling Club really helped me prepare for the Spelling Bee as it gave me more time to prepare, like not just at home, but also a little bit after school. I got to meet new friends that helped kind of quiz me at the same time, support from others. Other classmates, other peers at school have been very supportive of my trip to the National Spelling Bee. It’s been very helpful building confidence.

JW: And you’re making new friends, and I understand from what you just said, that your friends, you quiz each other. Bet there's a little competition in there sometimes.

BB: Yes

JW: Clearly, you have a lot of support from your school community, but I'm sure you also have a lot of support from your family and your friends. Can you tell us about how that influences you?

BB: Oh, yes. After I won my school spelling bee, I Face-timed my family because they love to know how I do in these bees. They were very excited. And when I went to school the next day, my friends are also very excited. And when I won the school spelling bee, and the regional bee, very similar. My family was very excited. My friends were also very excited. My next bee, my final bee, was pretty astonishing. My friends were like, wow, I get to know some of that's going to the National Spelling Bee. My family was very supportive, very excited that I get to go to the National Spelling Bee as well.

JW: As educators, we love to say that parents are really our earliest teachers. It sounds like your parents got you started right away with spelling from a very early time. Can you tell us a little bit about how mom and dad helped you learn even before school started?

BB: Well, reading at a very young age helped develop the vocabulary that have to this day. The flash cards that I have, they also help me learn bigger words. They really helped me understand when to use words and using different words in different situations.

JW: It sounds like a terrific place to start.

BB: It definitely is.

JW: Shannon, now that we're through the local, regional, and final bees in our area, what are the next steps to help Brady succeed near Washington, D.C., at the National Scripps Spelling Bee which is coming up in May and June?

SD: Well, I mean, he's got this, he’s such a bright kid, but I'm going to keep checking in with him and offer support any way I can, ask questions. How's it going? Keep you accountable. If you're studying, I would help quiz you. But I don't even know if I’ll know how to say the words, but anything I can do. But, you know, he comes in the office quite a bit. We chat pretty regularly. So I'm just going to keep checking in, make sure he's doing what he's doing. But I know he will.

JW: It's nice to know that his success encourages other students to join this club, take part in the upcoming spelling bees in years to come as well. Brady, what have you learned from this experience that you might share with other students just taking the first steps toward their dreams, whether it's spelling or something else? How has your education really inspired you to reach toward your dreams?

BB: Well, as other sports, you might practice a lot. If you're playing baseball, you might practice your pitching a lot, or if you're playing basketball, you make practice your dribbling. For spelling, it’s practicing those root words, practicing those definitions. It's a very good skill to have whether it's to expand your vocabulary to be better at reading, there are lots of benefits that spelling has. I learned a lot of hard work, a lot of studying in these past few months for these bees. It's been pretty wonderful just how much words can help you in your overall to life.

JW: While I was watching spelling bees, I noticed that the students asked the pronouncer certain questions about the words they receive. Can you tell us about those questions and why you ask them?

BB: So, there are a number of questions that you can ask in a spelling bee and they are different in each bee . At the National Spelling Bee, it's a little different. So, at regional bees you can ask for the definition, the part of speech, any alternate pronunciations, the language of origin and use it in a sentence. So, I'll use the word dactylogram, for example. If you know that the definition is a fingerprint - dactylogram does mean fingerprint – dactyl is a root word for finger and gram, as in telegram, is another word for print. So, fingerprint in dactylogram would make sense in that case. Using it in a sentence just kind of lets you hear it a little better. And part of speech lets you know like it's a plural noun, that it’s a verb, just letting you to know which part of speech it is.

JW: And how about the language origins?

BB: Different languages have different rules. For example, German they take for “cuh” for C-H, or like in English we have the word tangle, for example, that ends in L-E, and we have the word pretzel which comes from German, and that ends in E-L.

JW: Very interesting. And I understand you learned language early in school as a Spanish immersion student. Did that help you?

BB: I believe that that did help me quite a bit. Spanish is very similar to Latin in ways that Latin kind of made Spanish a language. So, there are different root words in English, different root words in Spanish. The Spanish root words are very similar to the ones in Latin, which I found as a very added bonus.

JW: Terrific. Shannon, how does what Brady's sharing about his experience through this influence, your work as an educator? What do you think educators can learn when we ask students about their dreams?

SD: Well, I think it, number one, shows that we care, by just asking questions, getting to know the kids, and a lot of them are so talented and you wouldn't know it unless you asked. And I learn a lot just from hanging out with the kids and it encourages me to keep doing that and stay involved with their interests and likes, and I feel like it's just a win-win for everybody.

JW: Having involved educators really makes a big difference in all of our students’ achievements and in their everyday life, and like you said, their confidence. Brady, you won the last spelling bee with the word quadrilateral and we all saw your eyes light up when you heard that word. Tell us about what you are thinking when you heard it, and maybe what word you're hoping for the next level.

BB: Well, quadrilateral is a math word. It means an object with four sides. I really enjoy math, so quadrilateral was a very fitting word to end off the spelling bee with. It was kind of nerve wracking and I'm like, whoa, I'm going to Washington, D.C.! This is incredible because it's a dream that lots of spellers have. There are over 11 million spellers across the world that participate in spelling bees and there are 230 in this bee and I get to be one of those 230.

JW: That is an incredible achievement. We are all very proud of you. Congratulations on that.

BB: Thank you.

JW: So, if you had to choose a word that you would really love to spell in front of a big audience like that, what might it be?

BB: There are two that I would be very interesting – loquacious - it was on my flash cards that I mentioned earlier. It means someone that talks a lot, which is me, a little bit. And vexillologist – that’s someone that studies flags. I love geography and places around the world, so I think that would also be very fitting to have at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

JW: So, can you spell that one for us?

BB: Vexillologist: V E X I L L O L O G I S T Vexillologist.

JW: I think that's fantastic. And we wish you all of the best of luck when you head to the national stage coming up soon. I want to thank both of you for taking time for talking with me today and for dreaming big, and also for inspiring others to do the same. It's been a real pleasure.

SD: Thank you for having us.

BB: And it's been very fun being here

JW: And thanks to everyone listening today, too If you know a student who dreams big, we would love to share their story. You can share your ideas and hear more dreams stories at KentISD.org/yourdream. The Your Dream is Our Dream podcast is presented by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU.

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