“Your first word is alien. Alien: ‘belonging to a foreign country or nation’. Alien.”
And so last Thursday evening on April 6, the 29th annual Boston First Literacy Spelling Bee began.
The three members of the PEM Team, curator Trevor Smith, and development officers Olivia Barry and Julie Fentin, looked at each other. “This won’t be so bad,” whispered Julie. The others nodded. They wrote a-l-i-e-n on their white board and held the board high over their heads for the judges to see. Six other teams held up their boards too. Everyone got it right.
On to the next word. “Harass”…hmmm…2 r’s? 1 r? 2 s’s? 1 s?…the PEM team huddled tightly together.
I looked at the stage and watched the PEM team lean in, confer. Six other teams did the same. Forty-two Boston teams in total were assembled on Thursday night — corporate giants like Deloitte, Cambridge Associates, Bain Capital, IBM, John Hancock, and Eaton Vance. There were notably great spellers such as the team from the Boston Public Library and Boston University. There would be six “heats” of spellers and then a final run-off round… the pressure mounted.
“H-a-r-r-a-s-s” spelled the team next to PEM. “Incorrect,”said judge number one. “H-A-R-A-S-S” – the PEM team held the white board high. And on we went. Those of us in the audience whooped loudly.
You now may be wondering how PEM came to participate in the 29th annual First Literacy Spelling Bee. The mission at PEM is to create experiences that broaden perspectives and transform people’s lives. Our partnerships with local, regional and national organizations manifest our goal to make a difference and have an impact.
First Literacy is an ideal partner for PEM because First Literacy too is transformative. First Literacy is committed to helping adults and families improve their lives through the achievement of both literacy and higher educational goals. The PEM-First Literacy partnership connects two institutions that open the pathways for experiences of learning and transformation.
For 29 years, First Literacy has brought together teams from leading businesses, universities and non-profits to compete in a spelling bee that benefits adult literacy and also celebrates the importance of life-long learning.
Jeff Beale, board member at PEM and board chair at First Literacy, began the evening by welcoming all the teams and thanking them for their focus on adult literacy. “This is a problem that can be solved,” said Jeff, emphasizing the power of our united efforts to open opportunity for families through education.
“Your next word is summery,” boomed Josh Binswanger, MC for the evening. “The girl wore a summery dress because of the climbing temperatures.”
The PEM team had already begun to write and held the board high in the air before the sentence finished. “S-U-M-M-A-R-Y”…the standard usage of summary.
Fellow PEM cheerleader Rebecca Ehrhardt leaned over to me, “Uh oh,”she whispered. “Darn,” I said, “that was an effective trick!”
The PEM team lowered the white board with comprehension dawning. Several other teams were knocked out too. But The rounds continued with amazing, startling words — many new to all of us:
We sat together, PEM spellers and cheerleaders, and held our collective breath as the remaining teams bent nervously over their whiteboards. As the words got harder, we all cheered and yelled with even greater excitement.
Finally, two teams remained: Eaton Vance and John Hancock. The word was announced, “Chondrule: a round mineral grain found in large numbers in some stony meteorites.”
The John Hancock team held the white board high: “C-O-N-D-R-U-L-E.”
Eaton Vance held its board up over their heads: “C-H-O-N-D-R-U-L-E”. Correct, said Judges one and two in unison.
Everyone cheered loudly. In a boisterous celebration of words, learning and teamwork, we ended the evening promising to practice all year and return for our comeback in 2018. Even more importantly, we celebrated again the power of partnerships to bring communities together and make a difference!