Sean Gibbons, eighth-grader from Elmhurst, wins DuPage Regional Spelling Bee

Eighth-grader Sean Gibbons from Bryan Middle School in Elmhurst is the winner of the 2024 DuPage County Spelling Bee. He will now advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

Nineteen students participated in the countywide spelling bee on Feb. 21, on the campus of College of DuPage. The students, in third through eighth grade, represented the winners of district level spelling bee contests.

These high achievers successfully spelled words such as chrysophyte, monotreme, and scorbutic. Other words, such as colloquium, amanuensis, and abhinaya, gave spellers trouble.

Gibbon’s winning word was ossuary, which is defined as a container or room where the bones of dead people are placed.

Sean Gibbon’s parents, Ryan and Regina Gibbons, say they are proud of Sean’s academic journey.

“In addition to being a very capable speller, Sean is also neurodivergent,” explains his father. “He had a tough time in the early years of elementary school and spent two years in the STARS program for autism at SASED.”

SASED, the School Association for Special Education in DuPage, offers a highly structured learning environment for autistic students.

However, when it comes to spelling competitions, being neurodivergent paid off. “One element of Sean’s neurodiversity is a deep interest in words, letters, languages, and unabridged dictionaries,” Ryan explained.

Now an eighth-grader and member of Bryant Middle School’s math team, Sean’s parents say he is doing great academically. Although he still encounters some challenges — he has successes such as the spelling bee to celebrate.

Dr. Vickie Trotter, coordinator for the Bee and assistant regional superintendent of the DuPage Regional Office of Education, is proud of Sean and all the spellers from the DuPage Bee.

“It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to qualify for a regional level spelling bee. The spellers prepare by studying a 4,000-word list provided by Scripps,” Trotter said.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, which Sean now advances to, will take place from May 28-30 in Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital. According to Scripps’ website, their “Bee Week” is more than just the nationally televised competition they are famous for. It’s a weeklong experience for spellers and their families that includes special events, educational workshops, and excursions into Washington D.C.

Sean, an avid student of countries and their flags, says besides participating in the National Bee, he is also looking forward to visiting Embassy Row, an area in D.C. where more than 170 foreign embassies are located. He admits he’s also excited he’ll be on television.

The all-expenses-paid trip to the Scripps Bee was generously provided by the DuPage Credit Union.

All contestants in the DuPage Bee also received a swag bag with an event T-shirt, as well as a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card donated by Wynndalco Enterprises, a technology management firm in Addison.

“The DuPage Spelling Bee is truly a team effort,” said Amber Quirk, regional superintendent of DuPage County Schools. “Without the help of community businesses, we would not be able to undertake such a meaningful event. We’re also grateful to College of DuPage for hosting the Bee this year.”

Although spelling bees don’t hold the same popularity they once had, Quirk believes the preparation that goes into them is important. “Today’s students are facing the most competitive job market in the world,” Quirk said. “It is imperative that students have opportunities to prepare, practice, and persevere through setbacks, which spelling bees offer.”

Trotter agrees. “I’m delighted that so many public and private schools in DuPage participate in school and classroom spelling bees, motivating their students to have a curiosity for words and a high-level interest in the English language and its origins. I hope we have an even greater turnout next year,” she said.

For the fifth year running, author and editor Stephanie Rische served as pronouncer for the DuPage competition. Lisa Barefield, Luann Doman, and Rhonda Eubanks were judges.

All agreed the spelling bee is a highlight of their year and wish Sean the best of luck at the Scripps Spelling Bee.

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