There’s a proverb that goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s also a lesson that Cianna Johnson, a sixth-grade student at Sts. Francis & Joseph School, ascribes to. As a fourth-grade student in 2018, she finished fifth at the Archdiocesan Spelling Contest. She sat out a year to regroup, and returned this year with a vengeance, claiming the 53rd title in her final primary school year.
“I’m very proud,” said the youngster of her win.
Cianna outlasted 14 competitors for 18 rounds, and correctly spelled the word “nuance” for her win. Her schoolmate, Jordyn Lloyd, a nine-year-old fifth grade student, finished second. Miguel Bullard, a St. Cecilia’s School student, rounded out the top three spellers.
“Hard work pays off,” said Cianna who said she loves spelling, likes to read and actually finds words fascinating. She took advantage of every opportunity to study leading up to the Archdiocesan bee – and found herself studying words before school, during lunch breaks and after school.
She advanced to the Archdiocesan bee by virtue of winning at the school level. She says she began studying the 4,000-plus list in preparation for the competition before Christmas.
Cianna and Jordyn will represent Catholic schools at the Bahamas National Spelling Bee, which is scheduled for March 8 at the Atlantis resort, to duke it out with spellers from around the country for the opportunity to be able to represent The Bahamas at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
Cianna’s accomplishment did not go unrecognized by her parents Laquint and Shanika Johnson; they put together a celebratory party at home to ensure the youngster got her just recognition. In attendance were her grandparents, aunts, uncles and friend’s mom. Her parents even made certain Cianna had her favorite treat – ice cream.
“The best part [of the celebration] was eating ice cream,” said the youngster who has a tough time when having to make a decision between vanilla ice cream and cookie dough ice cream. For her recent celebration she got to indulge in vanilla.
At school, she said her teacher, Katherine Lockhart, also congratulated her and told her to make certain her parents got her a special treat.
Looking back at the competition when she was given the word nuance to spell for the win, Cianna said she knew she had the title in the bag because it wasn’t a word that she would have a problem with.
She also thanked her spelling coaches, Rayette Strachan and Miriam Frederick, for getting her prepared for the battle.
Tiffany Glass, Sts. Francis & Joseph principal, said Cianna’s win is a valuable lesson to all.
“I really admire and am really proud of Cianna because she stuck with it,” said Glass, who has been principal at the school for four years. “She has always been a part of our school spelling bee, and year before last she came fifth – nevertheless, she stuck with it and persevered and for that we are very proud of her.”
The principal said she was elated and excited for her school’s Archdiocesan win.
“It’s just awesome because we have first and second place with Jordyn Lloyd,” she said.
At school, Cianna and Jordyn were celebrated with a pep rally, even though the school was inundated with activities as they celebrated Catholic Schools Week.
The Archdiocesan Spelling Contest is the oldest formal spelling bee in The Bahamas. It is aimed at encouraging academic excellence and a healthy competitive spirit amongst Catholic primary schools.
In 1965 there were 18 schools scattered throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and each functioned independently. At that time, the Bahamas Catholic Board of Education did not yet exist. The first superintendent of Catholic Schools, John Darby, led efforts to establish a governing body that would oversee the operation of Catholic education in The Bahamas, resulting in the board. The efforts included encouraging stakeholders to develop programs that would bring the Catholic school communities together to interact, share and learn. One of the most enduring and impactful of the initiatives was the Archdiocesan Spelling Contest.
The origin of this greatly anticipated highlight of the Catholic school calendar is rooted in the area locally known as “The Valley”, where oral history says Myrtle Gaynor, a teacher at St. Thomas More School, learned of Darby’s wish to create opportunities for Catholic schools to come together. It was Gaynor who suggested to Darby that a spelling competition would create an excellent platform for Catholic schools to coalesce and promote a spirit of unity among the schools. As a result, in January 1967, the inaugural Archdiocesan Spelling Contest was held. Although all Catholic primary schools did not participate in the initial competition, it was the impetus for many years of healthy, spirited competition.
Cianna will now turn her sights to preparing for the National Spelling Bee, which she says will take lots of hard work and studying to get herself prepared.
With the win, Cianna and Jordyn have earned the right to represent the Catholic Board of Education at the Bahamas National Spelling Bee, from which the winner will go on to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held May 24 to 29 in Washington, D.C.
Scripps is the longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by The E.W. Scripps Company and local spelling bee sponsors from the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Department of Defense Schools in Europe, The Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
The Scripps Bee was started in 1925 after a collaboration between nine newspapers. In 1941, Scripps took over sponsorship of the National Spelling Bee. There was no Scripps competition during the war years of 1943–45. Co-champions were declared in 1950, 1957, 1962, 2014 and 2015. Of the 93 champions, 48 have been girls and 45 have been boys.
In the history of Scripps, only two winners have come from Caribbean nations — Puerto Rico’s Hugh Tosteson, in 1975, who correctly spelled “incisor”, and Jamaica’s Jody-Anne Maxwell, in 1998, who correctly spelled “chiaroscurist”.
The purpose of the bee is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them live their lives.