PRINCETON – Fourth-grader Jemma Carroll and fifth-grader Klaas Leyenaar – both students at Indian Hills Elementary School – won their divisions at the sixth annual WKEC Regional Spelling Bee for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students held Tuesday at Northside Baptist Church in Princeton. The West Kentucky Educational Cooperative sponsored the event.

Nineteen students from across western Kentucky took part in the spelling bee, vying for a chance to take part in the state spelling bee on March 3 in Elizabethtown.

Carroll won the third- and fourth-grade division, which had the most students in the spelling bee, with seven taking part. On the other end of the spectrum, Leyenaar was the only participant in the fifth- and sixth-grade division.

Those who finished among the top three in their divisions advance to the state level. The bee's five divisions included first and second grade, third and fourth grade, fifth and sixth grade, seventh through ninth grade and 10th through 12th grade.

Those advancing to state from the Princeton regional include:

* First and second grade: 1. Kingston Roberts, second grade, A.B. Chandler Elementary; 2. Wesley Jackson, first grade, Bendgate Elementary; 3. Tanner Beadnall, Muhlenberg South Elementary.

* Third and fourth grade: 1. Jemma Carroll, fourth grade, Indian Hills Elementary; 2. Analise Renfroe, third grade, Murray Elementary; 3. Dagen Williams, third grade, A.B. Chandler Elementary.

* Fifth and sixth grade: 1. Klaas Leyenaar, fifth grade, Indian Hills Elementary.

* Seventh through ninth grade: 1. Aaron Perry, seventh grade, Muhlenberg North Middle; 2. Isabelle Stamps, seventh grade, Mayfield Middle School; 3. Angelina Vallejo-Garcia, eighth grade.

* 10th through 12th grade: 1. Samuel Salus, 10th grade, McCracken County High; 2. Christina Baten-Ajenal, 10th grade, Mayfield High; 3. Sydnee Davis, 10th grade, Graves County High.

Students were given a list of 100 spelling words to be used in the spelling bee in October to prepare for the regional bee. At the bee, the moderator for each division begins the bee by saying a word that is signed in a video presentation. A volunteer interpreter is also on hand to interpret the instructions and sign the word along with the person in the video.

Students then write the word on a dry-erase board. When instructed, the students show their word to the judges, who give them a thumbs-up if it spelled correctly or thumbs-down if it is not. Contestants are eliminated until there is a winner.

“With Jemma and some of her friends who has hearing difficulties, they sometimes feel left out when it comes to things like organized sports and things like that, where they feel like they’re limited,” said Carroll’s mother, Tiffany Carroll.

“I feel like this gives her something where she feels like she doesn’t have to have a group in order to have a team help her win at something. If she wants to win, she’s going to do everything that she can to study as much as she wants to. That way, she knows that she did it."

Spelling bee coordinator Maebeth Harbison, a Kentucky School for the Deaf Outreach consultant, said the spelling bee used video spelling guides for the first time rather than have a live interpreter sign the word to the students.

"The signs are consistent across the state," she said. "We felt like the lack of availability of interpreters in some areas wasn't fair to some of the regions, so being able to send out (links to) the videos for them to study with as well (as the spelling words list), and then using them at the competition was more consistent."

Seven other regional spelling bees will take place across the state through Dec. 13 to join the Princeton field in Elizabethtown in March.

"Now, every educational co-op has one if the interest is there," Harbison said. "We just wanted to do a spelling bee for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students so they could participate in something with the appropriate accommodations. It's just grown and grown."

Most of the students in the Princeton regional came from Henderson County (six students) and Muhlenberg County (five students). Other school districts taking part included McCracken County, Paducah Independent, Christian County, Graves County, Mayfield Independent and Murray Independent.

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