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October 10, 2012

Dallas mayor, other celebs get stumped for a spell at bee to benefit literacy

It was the first round of a charity spelling bee, and the Chase bank team was already tripped up on the fifth-grade word “beseech.”

“Can you repeat it, please? And can you remember how much we gave you?” team member Chad Smith joked.

But despite the rough start, the team made it through seven rounds of Wednesday’s celebrity spelling bee, which raised $75,000 for DISD’s Reading Partners tutoring program.

The team, which included KXAS-TV (Channel 5) newscaster Kristi Nelson, was knocked out by “bougainvillea,” a flowering plant.

Mayor Mike Rawlings’ team made it through only five of the 10 rounds.

“Alzheimer’s,” the announcer said.

“I guessed ‘Sfuzzi.’ I did get that right,” Rawlings reminded the audience before starting to spell, “A-L-T.”

Before the bee, which drew about 100 people, the mayor had joked he was nervous.

“My mother was a schoolteacher,” he said. “And the one thing she was always mad about was my spelling.”

Rawlings teased DISD Superintendent Mike Miles for not competing.

Miles admitted it was a no-win situation. If he won, everyone would say, “Of course. He’s the superintendent.” If he lost, he said, “I’m reminded of Dan Quayle.”

The former vice president was mocked mercilessly in 1992 for spelling “potato” with an “e.”

The Gordon and Rees law firm’s team won the bee after correctly spelling “Albuquerque,” “daguerreotype” and “reconnaissance.”

The team beat the Ernst and Young accounting firm’s team, which failed on “ingénue.” Team member Charles Glover, DISD’s chief talent officer, got off to an embarrassing start on the word: “A-U-C.”

But participants were willing to risk such humiliation to encourage literacy in DISD.

The national Reading Partners program started locally at east Oak Cliff’s Roger Q. Mills Elementary in January, and improvements there have been swift.

Principal Glorious Crowder said the tutoring program deserved part of the credit.

“They helped the low of the lows. Those are the babies that fall through the cracks,” Crowder said.

The program, which has expanded to 10 schools, allows students who are up to two years behind their reading level to spend time twice a week with volunteer tutors.

The organization is partly financed by federal grants and district funds but mostly relies on private philanthropy, said Kaitlin Guthrow, executive director of Reading Partners Dallas.

On average, starting a tutoring program at a new school costs $80,000 to $100,000.

With plans to expand the program to another 10 DISD schools, more money is needed. That prompted the idea of the spelling bee.

“Reading is a critical skill,” Miles said. “If you can’t get kids reading by the third grade, it’s so much harder after that.”

Tasha Tsiaperas, Dallas Morning News / Source

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