Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee: First ever braille-assisted Year 3 student Declan Lee takes part

ByRahul

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Declan Lee, take a bow. The nine-year-old Year 3 student has been blind since birth, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him from joining all the fun of the Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee.

Taking his place alongside classmates at Tenison Woods College in Mount Gambier, SA, Declan was one of 57,543 students registered for the school round of the third annual Bee across three year group categories.

A big fan of game shows, Declan was keen to take part, so his teaching team approached Kids News, which administers the competition, to figure out how the “talented, enthusiastic speller” could participate. While currently restricted to the first round due to the competition rules, Declan competed using a special keyboard, making him the competition’s first ever braille-assisted Bee thanks to his teachers’ ingenuity and his own determination.

“He is in a mainstream classroom with 24 other students, but he is supported by an education support officer, (Carolyn Jones), who sits side-by-side to be his eyes in the classroom,” said his class teacher Narelle Drew.

As well as a proficient speller, scoring 22/30 in the Green level round, Declan has the makings of a future reporter, turning the tables in the interview by asking his own questions after being asked to confirm his name.

“D-e-c-l-a-n,” he said. “What’s your name?” How old are you? When is your birthday? How do you spell ‘strategy’ – how many letters are in ‘strategy’?”

Jubilant after calling out the second vowel, Declan cheekily declared the attempt “Correct!”

“I write on the braille writer with my fingers,” he said. “My favourite thing to do every day is playing music. The instruments are piano and drums.”

There are six keys on Declan’s braille writer – button number one, he said, stands in for the letter “a”.

“If I push all six, I’ll write the word ‘for’ if I do that, the word ‘f-o-r’,” he said.

Declan lives with his grandmother and carer Marg.

“Grandma is ‘G-r-a-n-d-m-a’,” he said. “Well done.”

And a hearty well done indeed to all students who sat the Bee’s school round over the past month. The top 100 students in each category in every state and territory – approximately 2300 students nationwide – now progress to the second round. The state and territory finals commence at 9am AEST tomorrow, Monday 27 August. Eligible students have until 5pm AEST Friday 1 September to sit the round.

Returning Green level entrants Vanessa Wong, 9, and Milla Whiteley, 10, share more than representing their state Victoria in the Years 3-4 group: both in Year 4, the girls are classmates and friends at Cheltenham East Primary School.

Enjoying the rare air of the 30/30 club, Vanessa said her parents were “really proud of me and they were very happy”.

And rather than any schoolyard rivalry with Milla during next week’s second round, Vanessa said it would be “nice to have a friend there”.

“Even if I don’t win, my friend might do better than me,” she said.

For her part, Milla said while she was “a bit stressed and nervous” during the school round, her favourite thing about the Bee was the chance to “do more spelling”.

Making the second round made her “excited and joyful”, she said.

“I feel happy that I have a friend that I can count on to do well,” Milla said.

One of the reigning 2022 champions, WA’s Ozi Egesi is on track to defend his title, topping the school round in his Years 5-6 Orange level category with a perfect score and a scorching time of under a minute.

The Providence Christian College student, who recently turned 12, was pleased he got 30/30 but said, “the tension of the contest will grow stronger”.

“I will have to get serious about the state (and) territory round,” Ozi said. “There is no guarantee that I will win, as other students will be equally competitive. From now on, I will be employing my strategies of preparation to ensure that I give myself every opportunity to win.”

Slugging it out in the Years 7-8 category will be Hamish Tweeddale, 13, who carries the hopes of his home state as the only NSW student to make the Red level “Top Five” in the school round, which is otherwise dominated by Victoria’s junior word wizards.

Attending Stanmore’s Newington College in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s own electorate, the Year 8 student, a 2022 state finalist, said he was “happy and excited” to have another crack at making the nationals and was ready to take on his fellow students from south of the border.

“I don’t do much specific preparation but I do read a lot,” he said.

Asked which word he would throw the PM’s way if he won the grand prize trip to Parliament House, Hamish did not hesitate: “Aficionado,” he said.

Proud dad Geoff Tweeddale said, “I expect he is good at spelling because he is a keen reader.”

“Whereas our other kids prefer novels, we are far more likely to find Hamish with his nose in a nonfiction book, especially one about technology or aviation,” Mr Tweeddale said. “We learned long ago never to challenge any fact with him as (Hamish) is invariably right.”

TOP THREE PERFORMERS IN EACH CATEGORY, IN EVERY STATE AND TERRITORY

NSW GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Tiffany P, North Rocks Public School: 30/30, 1:34.377

2. Zack S, Vaucluse Public School: 30/30, 1:36.572

3. Christopher J, St Declan’s Catholic Primary School: 30/30, 1:45.369

NSW ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Angus K, Shore: 30/30, 2:00.391

2. Uzair K, Epping West Public School: 30/30, 2:21.476

3. Shahir H, Epping West Public School: 30/30, 2:23.610

NSW RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)

1. Hamish T, Newington College: 30/30, 3:45.902

2. Jesse H, Neutral Bay Public School: 29/30, 2:53.221

3. Colin N, Christian Brothers’ High School: 29/30, 4:33.039

VIC GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Vanessa W, Cheltenham East Primary School: 30/30, 0:59.634

2. Reyansh I, Heatherton Christian College: 30/30, 1:40.760

3. Miles M, St Joseph’s School: 30/30, 1:57.725

VIC ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Xavier L, Haileybury College Brighton: 30/30, 1:57.760

2. Torah C, St Michael’s School: 30/30, 2:03.511

3. Carlos L, Yarra Valley Grammar: 30/30, 2:04.994

VIC RED LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Keshav N, Alamanda K-9 College: 30/30, 1:35.626

2. Ashleen H, Alamanda K-9 College: 30/30, 2:03.302

3. Nathan L, Haileybury College City: 30/30, 2:13.147

QLD GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Charlotte H, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School: 30/30, 1:43.060

2. Ella B, Somerville House: 30/30, 2:00.942

3. Spencer G, Marian Catholic School: 30/30, 2:01.220

QLD ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Lucy C, Manly State School: 30/30, 1:19.022

2. Hannah Z, Somerville House: 29/30, 2:59.330

3. Jacob F, Glasshouse Christian College: 28/30, 1.21.265

QLD RED LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Manny R, Sheldon College: 29/30, 2:46.653

2. Ethan K, Kingaroy State High School: 28/30, 1:24.692

3. Aadilah A, MacGregor State High School: 28/30, 3:58.145

SA GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Henry W, Black Forest Primary School: 30/30, 2:07.351

2. Georgia S, Tenison Woods College: 29/30, 1:43.245

3. Alex W, Black Forest Primary School: 29/30, 2:14.674

SA ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Melinda W, Pedare Christian College: 29/30, 1:34.067

2. Max Y, Tenison Woods College: 28/30, 1:56.434

3. Edward K, Lobethal Lutheran School: 28/30, 2:07.033

SA RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)

1. Musashi N, Modbury High School: 29/30, 1:51.336

2. Charlene J, St John’s Grammar School: 28/30, 4:07.836

3. Tanmay S, St John’s Grammar School: 27/30, 5:23.643

TAS GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Max K, Dominic College: 30/30, 3:07.132

2. Emmy C, Lansdowne Crescent Primary School: 29/30, 1:33.940

3. Eliza M, Launceston Christian School: 29/30, 1:45.003

TAS ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Sofia L, Princes Street Primary School: 29/30, 1:09.519

2. Sahaja B, Fahan School: 29/30, 2:21.091

3. Declan S, Launceston Christian School: 28/30, 1:51.344

TAS RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)

1. Kevin L, Riverside High School: 30/30, 4:34.456

2. Mia C, Sacred Heart College: 29/30, 3:10.973

3. Ethan D, Riverside High School: 27/30, 2:34.073

WA GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Ronan H, Hollywood Primary School: 30/30, 1:24.168

2. Lovell Z, Christ Church Grammar School: 30/30, 2:05.066

3. Nash G, Our Lady of Lourdes School: 30/30, 2:32.230

WA ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Ozi E, Providence Christian College: 30/30, 0.56.501

2. Joanne L, Bull Creek Primary School: 29/30, 1:30.122

3. Thishane W, Ranford Primary School: 29/30, 2:07.853

WA RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)

1. Aiden m, Harrisdale Senior High School: 29/30, 1:42.932

2. Harshaan S, Willetton Senior High School: 29/30, 2:36.810

3. Krish K, Willetton Senior High School: 29/30, 2:38.188

NT GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Dulcie S, Ross Park Primary School: 28/30, 2:18.241

2. Kaytlyn S, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School: 27/30, 3:02.717

3. Ruben B, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School: 26/30, 2:27.438

NT ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. Rheyner L, Girraween Primary School: 27/30, 2:48.755

2. Gianne G, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School: 26/30, 4:46.598

3. Jasper H, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School: 25/30, 2:52.860

NT RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)
Did not compete

ACT GREEN LEVEL (YEARS 3-4)

1. Tofarati O, Brindabella Christian College: 30/30, 3:00.880

2. Sophie L, Brindabella Christian College: 29/30, 2:23.757

3. Annabel L, Canberra Girls’ Grammar School: 29/30, 2:52.791

ACT ORANGE LEVEL (YEARS 5-6)

1. James J, Burgmann Anglican School: 27/30: 2:37.221

2. Kanisshka S, Burgmann Anglican School: 27/30, 2:44.873

3. Jack B, Burgmann Anglican School: 26/30, 2:38.482

ACT RED LEVEL (YEARS 7-8)

1. Maleesha G, Burgmann Anglican School: 29/30, 3:27.646

2. Tanuj G, Burgmann Anglican School: 29/30, 4:01.717

3. Charvi K, Burgmann Anglican School: 29/30, 4:40.257



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