Rylee Cooper will probably never forget how to spell “eclectic.”
The Franklin Elementary School student was skilled enough to advance to the Los Angeles County Scripps Regional Spelling Bee this past weekend, but she tripped up on an eight-letter word that she might’ve spelled correctly in less grueling circumstances.
“She knows how to spell it,” school principal Deanna Sinfield said. “But I think they wore her down. It’s a pretty long competition.”
It was the end of an alphabetic marathon for Cooper, a fifth-grade student who represented her Montana Avenue campus and the Santa Monica-Malibu school district at the regional bee March 13 at Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City.
Cooper finished in the top half of a competition that featured more than 100 students in grades 2-8. The regional winner qualified for a spot in the national bee in Maryland in late May.
For Cooper, just getting to the regional bee required sensational spelling.
Fourth- and fifth-grade students at Franklin were invited to take a spelling test, and the top 10 performers participated in a Jan. 25 competition in front of their peers in the school’s auditorium.
Organized by teacher Paula Flynn, who also serves as the official word pronouncer, the local bee is run using strict Scripps rules. Santa Monica police Sgt. Erika Aklufi and SMMUSD student services director Tara Brown, a former Franklin principal, served as judges.
The Franklin competition, which was launched at the suggestion of parents about four years ago, has become a beloved campus tradition for the students in the upper two grade levels.
“There is a growing interest in the spelling bee,” Sinfield said. “They love it.”
Sinfield said the school was “heavy with excitement” on the day of the Franklin bee, when Cooper outlasted nine fellow students in many rounds of competition to earn a spot in the regional contest.
“She’s pretty good if she could beat all those kids who are very good spellers,” Sinfield said.
The local bee strengthens a strong language arts curriculum at Franklin, where 94 percent of fifth-grade students and 82 percent of fourth-grade students met or exceeded the standard on the English portion of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, according to 2014-15 data. The pass rate was 68 percent across the district.
“They have to know roots of words, they have to learn a lot of the Latin roots that we find in English, see patterns and irregularities, and they have to learn context,” Sinfield said. “They have to know how it’s used in a sentence to know how to spell the correct version of the word.”
Cooper, a student in Jeff Gonzalez’s class, practiced with Flynn as well as on her own ahead of the regional bee. She breezed through words like “bandit” to advance in the competition before bowing out on the word meaning “composed of elements drawn from various sources,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Cooper extends a spelling legacy at Franklin that was championed by Brennan Jacobs, who represented the school at the regional bee in each of the previous two years.