Captain Cooper Elementary School

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“4th-grader Stella makes Captain Cooper history at spelling bee”           

Stella

Stella (blue jeans) receives her third-place plaque Feb. 21 at the 31st annual Lyceum's Monterey County Spelling Bee at San Benancio Middle School in Salinas.

By Will Bans 

            If she doesn’t already know how to spell every word in this article, Stella will read this article once and learn.

            The fourth-grader’s gift helped her make history Feb. 21: She became the first Captain Cooper student ever to place in the top three in 31 years of Lyceum’s Monterey County Spelling Bee.

             In fact, out of the 54 fourth- and fifth-graders at the bee at San Benancio Middle School in Salinas, she was the only fourth-grader in the top four — and the only person in her family who, according to her mother, Heather, can read a word, write it down down once, and pretty much know how to spell it.

            Word by word — mistletoe, revision, philanthropy, illuminate — Stella found herself among a smaller and smaller group remaining at the bee. She then misspelled conscientious but qualified with another participant for a spell-off for third place  

            When she heard her next word (lacquer), “I went, ‘Yay!’ in my head,” Stella recounted.

            Seven letters later, the third-place wooden plaque was hers.

            “I, of course, was getting teary-eyed,” Heather said.

            Stella smiled as wide as the ‘p’ to the ‘y’ in philanthropy during the presentation on the school gym’s stage.

            “I never thought I would get to the end of the spelling bee,” Stella said. “I was excited when I got third place. I never thought that would happen.”

            She was looking forward to the spelling bee since second grade.

             “It was truly one of my proudest parent moments,” said Marcus, Stella’s father. “To see her confident and shine in front of a large audience amazed me.”        

            Only fourth- and fifth-graders are eligible for the annual bee.

            Other than her ability to quickly learn how to spell words and practicing the week before the bee, there were two other keys leading up to Stella’s performance.

            In third grade, “Sarah (a classmate) and I were above grade level in spelling so we were allowed to choose our own spelling words from the dictionary to make spelling lists,” Stella said.

             And, not surprisingly, “I like to read books.”

            At the bee, Stella patiently waited as the other kids spelled and her No. 49 was called.

            “She had poise and self-confidence, which showed when she took her time to understand a word and spell when she was ready.” said Stephanie Lee, Stella’s teacher who was at the bee for support. “It was impressive that she didn’t let the pressure get to her.”

            Lee also had a fifth-grader, Chris, qualify and participate in the bee, and two alternates, fourth-grader Sarah and fifth-grader Emilu.

            Now, Stella’s family has a special lifelong memory, and she has the plaque on top of her dresser in her bedroom.

            And the Cooper kids and staff have a word to describe their feelings about Stella’s accomplishment.

            It is spelled p-r-o-u-d.

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