WILDWOOD - Glenwood Avenue Elementary School recently held its first spelling bee in about 30 years and no one is happier than Ezequiel Palacios.

"Spelling is a big thing in life," the 11-year-old said Monday. "Without spelling, you can't write or read or simply live a normal life."

But Ezequiel doesn't just talk about good spelling; he practices it.

Last week, the fifth-grader won Glenwood's schoolwide bee, open to students in grades four and five. Now, he's busy studying to compete at the South Jersey Regional Spelling Bee on March 22 at Galloway Township Middle School. The bee leads up to the The Scripps National Spelling Bee, which takes place May 25 to 31 in Washington, D.C.

"I'm really excited. A little nervous, but I'm pumped up for it," he said.

Glenwood's literacy coach Tracey Melchiorre is equally excited. At the direction of Principal John Kummings, she looked into the prospect of having a spelling bee at the school and she found none had been held at the elementary level here for at least 30 years.

"I've been here 28 years and I know none have been held since I came," she said.

Melchiorre said students were asked to sign up and the response- 65 of them wanted to take part - was tremendous given the bee's long absence.

She then gathered them together each school day for practice, allowing the students to walk up to a microphone just as they would at the actual spelling bee.

"Every student really took their job seriously. They wanted to do it," she said.

A mini-spelling bee was then held to narrow the field to 30, and on Thursday students in grades three to five watched as Ezequiel and the other 29 finalists competed.

Each received a finalist T-shirt, and on the day of the bee a face painter gave each of them a bumble bee painting on their cheeks to designate them as finalists.

Melchiorre worried the crowd might not be quiet enough to allow the students to concentrate, but instead, she said, "you could have heard a pin drop."

Ezequiel spelled bulwark correctly and won after spelling his final word: shiatsu, a Japanese massage technique.

He said he knew the word well, having studied it with one of his friends.

"When I won, I felt so proud of myself," he said. "My mom was so proud."

Melchiorre said she now practices with Ezequiel, joking that the relationship resembles the connection between Rocky and his trainer Mickey in the movie "Rocky."

The youngster loves reading, drawing and soccer, too, but for now his attention is focused on spelling as he prepares for the event in Galloway Township.

"I'm going to practice every day until the big day," he said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716