Glossolalia. Fulguration. Nyctalopia. Asphyxiant. Eurytherm.
These aren't words lifelong speakers of English are likely to use in everyday conversation, let alone know how to spell. Indeed, even college students, professional writers and English professors would be hard-pressed to break down these words off the top of their heads.
But a group of elementary and middle school students from the Cherry Creek School District came to the Student Achievement Resource Center on Feb. 5 prepared to decode such seemingly undecipherable words. As the rest of the world geared up for Super Bowl 50, students from 49 Cherry Creek schools reported to SARC to compete in the districtwide Spelling Bee.
The annual competition is one of several programs offered through the district's Gifted and Talented Program, but the Spelling Bee is open to all students. Each school has its own testing process to find their most talented spellers, a policy that encourages academic achievement for all students.
"This is not solely for students identified as gifted," Jennifer Gottschalk, coordinator of Cherry Creek's Gifted Education and Advanced Learning programs. "We're celebrating academic achievement for all students. That's why we're here today."
This particular celebration of academic achievement combined a whole host of skills for competitors. After passing written and oral exams at their home schools, hundreds of Cherry Creek students reported to SARC to vie for a chance to be one of 20 finalists who will go on to the state competition in March. After a written test, dozens of qualifying spellers donned bibs with numbers and waited for their turn in front of a panel of judges.
That part of the competition drew on skills that went far beyond simple spelling. Students asked about pronunciation and orthography. Knowing how to correctly spell a word means having a familiarity with the history and makeup of English, as well as languages from across the globe and across history.
"English is a language that's borrowed from every other place," Gottschalk said.
Bev Robin, the district's Spelling Bee coordinator, stood at a podium and presented each student with a word to spell. A panel composed of former CCSD Superintendent Mary Chesley, CCSD Social Studies Director Chris Elnicki, former CCSD Curriculum Director Jack Platt and former district Multicultural Director Carolyn Jones served as judges.
The crowd of competitors took turns at the podium until the top 20 spellers beat out their competitors. These students will go on to the state final to be held in March at the University of Denver. That contest will be the potential window to a spot in the national bee.
But the bee was about more than local or national glory for the students who gathered at SARC on Feb. 5. Spellers of all backgrounds and interests came together for a common purpose, to revel in the power of words, however big or small.
"Words are how we do everything," Gottschalk said. "They're how we persuade and apologize. They're how we ask someone to marry them. It's joyful to watch students celebrate language like this. It teaches them more effective and elegant ways of communicating."
It also teaches them to recognize words like glossolalia (meaning incomprehensible speech in an imaginary language); fulguration (to flash or dart like lightning); nyctalopia (night blindness); asphyxiant (an agent that impairs normal breathing); and eurytherm (an organism that tolerates a wide range of temperatures).