Students show talent, perseverance at annual Spelling Bee in Schenectady

Winner advances to national contest in Washington
Kingston Czajkowski, a 6th-grader at Cairo-Durham Middle School, will advance to the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
Kingston Czajkowski, a 6th-grader at Cairo-Durham Middle School, will advance to the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

People of Cairo, Egypt know the ankh.

The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol was most commonly used in writing and in art to represent the word for “life.”

Kingston Czajkowski — who studies in Cairo, Greene County — also knows the ankh.

The sixth-grader at Cairo-Durham Middle School correctly spelled the four-letter word Tuesday to win the annual Capital Region Spelling Bee at Proctors in Schenectady.

Approximately 113 students from dozens of local schools in multiple counties participated in the spelling test, which was first held in 1982. Czajkowski won an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 24-29.

The 2020 word king also won a $200 check donated by the Times Union newspaper — an event sponsor along with Capital Region BOCES, the Upper Hudson Library System, Hannaford Supermarkets, Sage Colleges and Proctors. Czajkowski also scored the Merriam Webster Third New International Dictionary and a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online, among other awards.

Bee finalists included Jaeho Lee of Acadia Middle School in Clifton Park; Nguyet-Vien Le from Lisha Kill Middle School in Colonie; and Isaac Allen of Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School in Albany. All three received $75 checks, the Merriam Webster dictionary and tickets for a production at the Theatre Institute at Sage.

The spellers, who qualified for the Capital Region Bee by winning school or district competitions, started Tuesday with written tests at the GE Theatre. They took their seats on the MainStage just before 1 p.m., and began alphabet action at 1:12 p.m.

Pronouncer Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor of the Times Union, gave the first word to Ian Zehnder of Lisha Kill Middle. Zehnder, a seventh-grader, spelled “tooth” correctly.

From there, kids wearing name cards continued their walks across the stage, spoke into one of two microphones and showed off their skills in the construction of vowels and consonants. Their cerebral spell-checkers helped them solve words such as “turtle,” “sunflower,” “shamrock,” “arcade,” “mundane,” “dandelion” and “distinctive.”

Images: Photos from the spelling bee

They also conquered “exemplar,” “occupancy,” “makeshift,” “cobblestone” and “compromise.”

By the time the first round ended at 2:20 p.m., more than a dozen spellers had offered incorrect interpretations and left the collective. “Posse,” “furious,” “torrent,” “monarch” and “havoc” were among the eliminators.

Some students took a few seconds to ponder, asking Jochnowitz for language origins, extra pronunciations and use of their words in sentences. Spellers spoke in bold, confident voices; others offered their letters slowly and announced their finished versions with invisible question marks at the end.

Some kids had a little fun on stage. “Failure,” was given to Milo Modany, 12, a sixth-grader at Gowana Middle School in Clifton Park. “Coincidental,” Modany quipped, before spelling the word correctly.

Later, Prahlad Balaji received the word “oompah” and reacted in a mixture of shock and surprise that amused the audience. “Say what?” asked the sixth-grader from Acadia Middle School.

Balaji passed the test.

There were only four students left when Czajkowski spelled “ankh” shortly after 5 p.m., ending the afternoon quiz show.

Students were happy for chances to participate. Several said they had been studying for months, working with parents on their sequences. Shortly before the bee began to buzz, some parents drilled their children with last minute questions: “Badminton!” “Haitian!” asked one.

Images: Photos from the spelling bee

“It’s a fun experience,” said Abigail Gray, 9, a fourth-grader at Watervliet Elementary School.

Just about everyone was nervous. “It’s a little nerve-racking,” said Ayub Gedi, 11, a sixth-grader at North Albany Academy.

Clara Kaposhilin, 9, a fourth-grader at George Washington Elementary School in Kingston, had her letters down. She was also pretty good with her numbers.

“It took us one hour and eight minutes to get here,” she said, of the drive north.

Natalia Brady, a fifth-grader at Gayhead Elementary School in Hopewell Junction, Dutchess County, loved the perks. She had the chance to travel, see Proctors and meet new friends.

“And,” she added, “we got to miss school.”

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]


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