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The Spring Spelling Bee
Jo Sanchez took a deep breath. Her palms felt damp and warm, so she wiped them on her pants. She wondered if the other kids on the stage of the Oak Tree Elementary School auditorium were getting nervous too.
"Min Choi, you're next," Ms. Paolini, the fifth-grade English teacher, called out.
Ms. Paolini was running the Spring Spelling Bee. She was standing at one end of the stage, reading out the words for the students to spell.
Jo watched fourth grader Min Choi step to the microphone. Ms. Paolini smiled at Min.
"Min, your word is 'satellite,'" the teacher said.
Min slowly spelled out the word. But Jo didn't pay attention. Instead, she peered down the row of chairs on either side of her. Most of them were empty now, though all of them had been full just a short while ago. She could hardly believe it -- she was the last third grader left on stage! The second-to-last one, Tammy Tandrich, had been knocked out of the spelling bee in the last round. She'd misspelled the word "achieve." Now the only people left were Jo and seven other kids. All of the others were fourth or fifth graders.
Next Jo looked out into the audience. It was hard to see anything out there since the spotlights were shining straight at the stage. That left the rest of the auditorium in shadow. But Jo was pretty sure she could see her mother sitting a few rows back. She wished her father could be there too. But he was a doctor, and he couldn't leave his patients in the middle of the day.
Min finished spelling her word. "That's correct," Ms. Paolini told her. "Good job. Now it's Jo's turn again. Ms. Sanchez, please step forward."
Jo felt a funny, jumpy sensation in her stomach. Her friends were always teasing her because she never looked nervous, not even before a big test. She tried to tell them she still felt nervous sometimes. But she wasn't sure they believed her.
She brushed her shoulder-length dark hair out of her face and walked to the microphone. Then, looking over at Ms. Paolini, Jo waited for her next word.
"Whoooo! Go, Jo-Jo!" someone shouted from the audience.
The whole audience started laughing, and Jo smiled. She looked down and spotted her three best friends in the front row. All three of them had been in the spelling bee too. Each time someone got knocked out by spelling a word wrong, he or she went and sat down in the first section of the audience.
Taylor Kent was the one who'd yelled out. Taylor was very smart, but she was also very impatient. She'd sped through the spelling of the word "neighbor" without stopping to remember that it was supposed to have the letter g in it.
Beside Taylor, Kara Wyatt was laughing and waving to Jo. Kara wasn't a very good speller, so it was no surprise that she'd been knocked out early. She'd barely even tried to spell the word "geography" before giggling and giving up.
Emily McDougal was sitting on Kara's other side. Emily was looking over at Mr. Mackey, the music teacher, who was sitting at the end of their row. Emily hated causing a scene or getting in trouble, so she looked kind of nervous. A lot of things made Emily nervous. For one thing, she always got nervous when she had to stand up and talk in front of other people. Jo was pretty sure that was why Emily had messed up the word "exercise" a couple of rounds earlier. Normally, Emily was one of the best spellers in the third grade.
Mr. Mackey was laughing along with everyone else. "That's enough, Miss Kent," he called down the row.
Ms. Paolini smiled at Jo. "Now that your cheering section has settled down, let's continue," she said. "Since this is the Spring Spelling Bee, the next round will consist of words that have to do with spring. Your word is 'sprout.'"
Jo nodded and thought for a moment. She heard the word "sprout" all the time at Emily's house. Emily's mother ran an organic gardening business. This time of year, all the counters and tables at the McDougal house were filled with sprouting plants.
The trouble was, Jo wasn't sure how to spell "sprout." It sounded like it might have a w in it. But that didn't seem quite right.
It rhymes with "out," she thought. So maybe it's spelled like that too.
She took another few seconds to think about that. She didn't want to make a mistake by rushing.
"Sprout," she said at last. "S-P-R-O-U-T. Sprout?"
She held her breath, glancing over at Ms. Paolini. The teacher was smiling.
"Correct," she said. "Very good, Jo."
The audience clapped. Jo returned to the line of chairs at the back of the stage. She was relieved. That had been a hard word.
"Good job," Min whispered.
"Thanks," Jo whispered back.
It was Charles Phan's turn next. He jumped out of his chair so fast that he knocked it over. That was normal for Charles. He had a lot of energy.
"I'm ready," he yelled into the microphone. "Lay it on me, Ms. Paolini."
Everyone laughed, including Jo. Charles always made people laugh. He was one of the most hyper boys in the fourth grade. He was also one of the smartest.
Charles spelled his word, "daffodil," correctly. But the next two people got theirs wrong.
"Wow, this is a hard round," Min whispered to Jo, sounding nervous. "I hope my word is easy."
"Amy Robinson is next," Jo whispered back. "She's the smartest kid in the fifth grade. She'll probably get hers right."
Min nodded. "She won the last three spelling bees, remember?" she said. "The one in the fall this year, and both of the ones last year."
Jo's guess was correct. Amy got her word right. So did two other fifth graders, along with Min.
In the next round Jo got a word she knew -- "guitar." She spelled it carefully and then sat down. Charles and Amy got their words right too. But Min and the two fifth graders got theirs wrong. That left only three people on stage -- Charles, Amy, and Jo.
"It looks like we're down to our final three," Ms. Paolini said before starting the next round. "Congratulations, you three. And may the best speller win!"
Jo glanced over at the two older kids. She could hardly believe she was in the final three. Her friends might not think she ever got nervous, but she was definitely nervous now!
Amy was going first in this round. Jo watched the fifth grader walk to the microphone.
"Amy, your word is 'surgery,'" Ms. Paolini said.
Amy looked over at the teacher. "Could you repeat that word, please?" she asked.
Even though Jo was sitting behind her, she could tell that Amy was nervous. She guessed that Amy wasn't sure how to spell her word.
Sure enough, Amy spelled it wrong. "I'm sorry, Amy," Ms. Paolini said. She spelled the word correctly, then asked Amy to come over and stand beside her.
Charles was next. He got his word wrong too.
"Your turn, Jo," Ms. Paolini said. "If you get this right, you win. If not, all three of you get to try again."
"But no pressure!" Charles called out with a laugh. He and Amy were both standing at the side of the stage near Ms. Paolini, waiting to see if Jo spelled her word correctly.
Jo stepped to the microphone. Her hands were shaking a little, and her head felt funny. What if she got her word wrong? She didn't want to look stupid.
"Ready?" Ms. Paolini asked. "Jo, your word is 'choir.'"
Jo smiled. Suddenly, she felt much less nervous. It was a pretty hard word to spell, but not for her. She was a member of her church choir -- she definitely knew how to spell that word!
"Choir," she said confidently. "C-H-O-I-R."
She paused for a moment to think it over once more before making it official. She definitely didn't want to make a stupid mistake.
"Choir," she finished at last.
Ms. Paolini smiled. "Correct!" she said. "We have a winner!" Copyright © 2008 by Catherine Hapka