When it comes to spelling, Brennan Jacobs is a budding maestro — that is, m-a-e-s-t-r-o.
The local fifth-grader represented Santa Monica earlier this month at the Los Angeles County Scripps Regional Spelling Bee for the second year in a row, finishing in the top 15 after winning a qualifying competition at Franklin Elementary School.
Jacobs’ recent accomplishment is due in part to the work of educators and parents at Franklin, who created a spelling bee three years ago to get students excited about developing their English language skills.
It’s grown in popularity ever since.
“It’s become kind of a tradition here,” principal Deanna Sinfield said.
Jacobs enriched the tradition with his performance at the regional bee Feb. 8 at Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, where thousands of students from more than 100 area schools competed in 21 rounds over more than six hours.
He sailed through words like “hangar” and “nullify” — even “galjoen,” a species of fish found off the coast of southern Africa. What finally tripped him up was “penury” — extreme poverty — which he mistakenly finished with the wrong vowel.
But simply securing a return bid was no small feat for Jacobs, who also participated in the regional bee last year.
He and his peers at Franklin first had to take a spelling test to determine which 10 students would compete in the school’s bee.
Jacobs made the cut and outlasted the nine other fourth- and fifth-graders to earn the right to compete at the regional bee, whose champion advances to the national spelling bee in May in Washington, D.C.
“Every year we have more students who want to be part of the spelling bee,” Sinfield said of the Franklin event. “We see them using it as a study group opportunity. It’s having a positive impact. It’s getting them excited about learning and cooperating.”
Franklin’s spelling bee aims to enhance what is already a successful language arts curriculum. More than 90 percent of students at the Montana Avenue school were deemed proficient or above in English skills, according to 2012-13 testing data.
The event goes beyond the spelling of difficult and unusual words and addresses broader educational goals, Sinfield said.
“It’s embedded into the curriculum,” she said. “We want people to be able to spell what they’re writing. Can students express themselves verbally? Part of spelling is the vocabulary building — they have to know prefixes, suffixes, word roots and country of origin. It does go deeper than just clear spelling.
“It calls on kids to think outside the box of predictable spelling patterns and to be ready to grapple with unknown words. They get exposed to the difficulties of word structure in the English language. Students use critical thinking to be able to apply rules to the most complex spelling.”
Franklin’s annual bee began at the suggestion of parents, who worked with then-principal Tara Brown to develop a competition for students in the top two grade levels.
Fifth-grade teacher Paula Flynn has taken over as coordinator. She organizes the testing to determine the 10 finalists, oversees communication with spellers’ parents and serves as the official word pronouncer.
Franklin’s bee also involves guest judges, who ensure that the competition follows strict Scripps rules.
The process can be stressful, but Jacobs handles it with adroitness — ahem, a-d-r-o-i-t-n-e-s-s.
“He’s a pretty bright kid,” Sinfield said. “And he’s an amazing speller.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.