A large crowd of family and friends watched in amazement as the Humble ISD District Spelling Bee took place Feb. 18. It took nearly three hours of hard competition to determine a champion and alternate to represent the district in the televised Houston PBS Spelling Bee April 1. 

The winning representative is Ian Robertson, a fifth-grade student at Greentree Elementary School in Kingwood. The alternate is Lily Greenwald, an eighth-grader at Woodcreek Middle School in Summerwood. All 31 contestants were clearly accomplished spellers and understood the definitions of the words they were asked to spell.

Humble ISD students, representing 31 elementary and middle schools, competed for the chance to represent the district at the Houston meet. Just before the spelling bee began, each participant was recognized and presented a commemorative award for qualifying to compete at the district level. 

Myra Herbst, the school district’s elementary English/language arts coordinator, acted as mistress of ceremonies. She pointed out to the competitors and the audience how the spelling bee would be conducted, explaining the rules governing the rounds with each student spelling one word per round. She highlighted the rights of the students to be advised if their assigned word had a homonym (same pronunciation but different meanings and or origins,) the right to ask for the word’s definition and also its origin, i.e. Spanish, Latin, Germanic, Celtic and even Native American or other tribal origins. Herbst also pointed out the wide range of ages of the children in contest. 

“We have participants today ranging from the second grade all the way through the eighth grade, so this is really exciting,” Herbst said.

The first round began with all 31 students seated on the stage of the Humble Middle School Auditorium. Each student approached the three-judge panel to receive and spell their word. If they misspelled the word, they left the stage and were seated in the front row of the audience until the end of the round in case there was any appeal about the misspelled word. 

The spelling bee started at 9 a.m. and took 20 rounds before Robertson was the last student left standing and correctly spelled the word “au revoir.” 

Thirty-one of the best spellers in the school district began with high hopes. Photo by Bruce Olson

He did so after Greenwald misspelled the word “julienne,” which was identified to her as a homonym and verb meaning to slice into thin strips about the size of matchsticks. She spelled its homonym, “Julian,” which is an adjective of Latin origin to describe things relating to or characteristic of Julius Caesar, such as the Julian calendar that is used today. As a result, she became the alternate at the PBS Houston Spelling Bee. Both Robertson and Greenwald will be excellent representatives for the district at the Houston contest, Herbst said. 

The Houston PBS Spelling Bee will be televised live April 1. It is one of the largest in the country, with students from more than 1,100 schools in 42 Texas counties competing to be one of the top two spellers, who will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The spelling bee was started in 1925 by nine newspapers. Ninety-two years later, the program reaches 11 million students every year. The Houston winner and alternate will win an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent the Houston area in May.

Bruce Olson
Author: Bruce OlsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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I have been married since 1970 to Kerry, my best friend and a great Australian woman. I served and survived Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force. I fought forest fires in the summer while in college, where I earned a B.A. in economics from Oklahoma State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas. I retired from Continental Airlines. I have a son and two granddaughters in Kingwood, and a daughter and two grandsons on a farm near Mazabuka, Zambia. I am now enjoying life as a grandfather, Tribune correspondent and Humble ISD guest teacher when not traveling to Zambia or Australia.

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