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A school superintendent in Rhode Island reversed a decision by administrators who canceled the district’s annual spelling bee because they thought the event’s awarding of just one winner violated the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s aim that all children should succeed.


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Competitor in Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee finals in Washington last June. (Photo: National Spelling Bee)

John Tindall-Gibson, superintendent of schools in Lincoln, R.I., told the Woonsocket Call newspaper his job is to make sure schools aren’t dull and dreary places.

“These sorts of competitions can be motivational and exciting for students, so that’s something we will have to consider,” said Tindall-Gibson, who acquired his post after the decision was made to cancel the event.

As WorldNetDaily reported, the district’s assistant superintendent, Linda Newman, said she and elementary school principals made a unanimous decision to cancel their local competition shortly after the January 2004 event, agreeing that a spelling bee does not meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards, the paper said.

She argued that professional organizations now encourage elementary school children to participate in activities that avoid winners and losers, which is why sports teams have been eliminated for that age group.

“You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners,” Newman told the Call. “You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go.”

The competition, sponsored by Scripps Howard newspapers, pits students in 4th through 8th grade against each other in a district round, with the winner advancing to a state playoff and the chance to move on to the national finals in Washington, D.C.

Mary Carvalho, principal at Lonsdale Elementary, told the Woonsocket newspaper the decision to cancel was based on research discouraging competition at lower grade levels and standards that say, “all children should be given the same opportunities.”

The district plans to hold school-based spelling bees beginning today through Feb. 8, with a district-wide competition Feb. 17.

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