“‘Million,’ judges, the word is ‘million’,” said WISN Channel 12 reporter Thema Ponton at the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee’s annual spelling bee.
Kailyn Wettberg stood before the judges and an audience of 75 people. Taking a breath and looking straight ahead of her she said, “Million: m-i-l-l-i-o-n.” Suddenly the crowed erupted in applause: she had won the fifth-grade competition.
Wettberg was one of 30 students who participated in the HACM Education Initiative’s 14th annual spelling bee.
“The spelling bee is one of the tools our Education Initiative uses to help youth build self-confidence, composure under pressure and a personal drive for excellence for everything they do,” said Paul Williams, HACM communications coordinator.
Youth from 14 neighborhoods, schools and youth-serving agencies participated in the bee. The students were split into grade categories, from fifth to eighth grade. The first-, second- and third-place student in each category won a trophy.
“I mean, national football players get a ring, and they get a trophy. It really is a joy,” said Ann Wilson, Hillside Family Resource Center manager, who started the spelling bee at the resource center.
The students receive lists of words weeks before the spelling bee. Williams said some of the words are pretty difficult and in the past there have been “parents in the audience sitting and scratching their heads.”
But for 13-year-old Lowrese Riggins, memorizing the words was not a problem.
“Most of the words are over eight letters and even some of the smaller words are hard to memorize. But I practice a lot,” she said with confidence. “I’m sure I’ll do well,” she said before the event.
Riggins is a student at Starms Discovery Learning Center, 2035 N. 25th St. She has participated in the spelling bee twice, and received a trophy both times. During this year’s spelling bee, she placed second in the eighth-grade category.
In addition to the spelling bee, the Education Initiative offers a variety of programs to support family and school efforts, including a preschool, after-school help, a summer reading program, social and professional etiquette class, and student recognition awards.
“Our goal is to motivate kids and keep them moving forward,” said Williams. “We see education as a family-oriented activity. Families should be working and learning together.”
Since the Education Initiative started eight years ago, 91 percent of the students in the program have graduated high school.
“We have found that if you raise expectations, people usually rise up to meet them,” Williams said.
HACM provides affordable housing choices to more than 10,000 Milwaukee families. A homeownership program helps low-income families save to purchase a house. Other programs promote healthy communities, including public safety, health care services and education.
The Housing Authority partnered with Milwaukee YMCA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Milwaukee Area and the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center on the spelling bee.