Elmwood Elementary 4th Grader Wins 2020 District Spelling Bee

Elmwood students wins District Spelling Bee

Kate Kondela, a 4th-grade student at Elmwood Elementary School, stands next to the trophy she won for her school as champion of the 2020 District 401 Spelling Bee. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)


Kate Kondela, a 4th grader at Elmwood Elementary School, won the 2020 Elmwood Park District 401 Spelling Bee on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

The contest, which took place at Elmwood before a large audience of students, parents and community members in the school gym, featured 22 of the best spellers from the District's two elementary schools.

Kate clinched the title in the 16th round when she correctly spelled "smuggler." 

Mel Rubio, an Elmwood 5th grader, finished as runner-up, and Elmwood 6th grader Anthony Huaman placed third. 

The contestants came from grades 4-6 at Elmwood and John Mills Elementary School. They were selected as the top 11 spellers at their respective schools based on the results of preliminary qualifying tests. (Scroll down to see a listing of all students who qualified for the contest.)

The top finishers from John Mills were 6th grader Hania Xhafa and 5th grader Nicole Gorka.

As the District winner, Kate received a trophy that will be housed at her school for the next year.

Kate is the second consecutive Elmwood student to be crowned District Spelling Bee champion. Nico Di Naso, now a 7th grader at Elm Middle School, won the 2019 competition. Immediately prior to that, Andrew Ticao of John Mills won the title for three straight years. (Andrew is now an 8th grader at Elm.)

The judges for this year’s contest were Special Education Coordinator Ms. Pamela Stutzman and Early Childhood Center Principal Mr. Kevin Seibel. The official pronouncer was Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nicolas Wade.

Special guests included Board of Education member Mrs. Mary Bruscato and Elmwood Park Police Chief Mr. Frank Fagiano.

The event as a whole was administered by Elmwood Assistant Principal Ms. Stephanie Hagins, with logistics for John Mills handled by the school’s principal, Mr. Frank Kuzniewski.


Spelling Bee winner Kate Kondela with the championship trophy.

PHOTO: Spelling Bee champion Kate Kondela admires the trophy she won on behalf of Elmwood Elementary School. District 401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


The Elmwood and John Mills teams were each coached by Ms. Annina Wanzung, District 401’s enrichment teacher for grades K-6.

Ms. Wanzung conducted hourlong practices for both teams once a week, with Mills students practicing before school and Elmwood students after school. During the sessions, team members broke up into small groups to study the word list provided by the Scripps organization.

"At the end of every practice we did a full-group mock spelling bee so the students could get a feel for how the event works," Ms. Wanzung said. “And then a lot of the team members studied extensively on their own time."

For Kate, who is bilingual in Polish, this included the use of flash cards to help her fine-tune her spelling skills, which were already impressive thanks to her love of reading.

"She had about 200 flash cards with the hardest words written in a black Sharpie so she could remember them," said Kate's mother, Anna Kondela. "She studied them almost every night for two weeks. She was actually happy to study; she likes to look for new words. She also has the best teachers, who always encourage her to read a lot and support her in awesome ways."

In the end, all of the hard work paid off as Kate became the first 4th grader since Andrew Ticao in 2016 to win the District title.


Nicole Gorka competes in the 2020 District Spelling Bee.

PHOTO: Above, John Mills 5th grader Nicole Gorka advances to a new round during the 2020 District Spelling Bee. Nicole and 6th grader Hania Xhafa were the event's top two finishers from John Mills. District 401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


Kate Kondela looks at the new material she will be studying for her next spelling bee.

PHOTO: Above, Kate Kondela examines the new material she will be studying in preparation for her next competition, the West 40 Scripps Spelling Bee on Feb. 3. Her spelling coach, Ms. Annina Wanzung, looks on. District 401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


"Kate was a rock star," Ms. Wanzung said. "I mean she was composed in each round, she was calm in each round, and when it was her turn she shined each time."

Added Kate's mother: "I was extremely happy for her because I know how hard she worked for it. She studied a lot, and she took it really seriously. I told her, 'Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.' I think this is the best."

The District-level contest was the beginning of a multi-stage selection process that will choose participants nationwide for the 2020 Scripps National Spelling Bee, scheduled for May 24-29 in National Harbor, Md.

As District 401's representative, Kate will now advance to the West 40 Intermediate Service Center Scripps Spelling Bee, to be held Feb. 3 at McClure Junior High School in Western Springs.

But for the moment, she and her fellow students who competed in this year's District Spelling Bee can look back on a successful event.

"I’m just so proud of all of them," Ms. Wanzung said. "They worked so hard in school and out of school, and I think it really showed today. It’s a great, friendly competition, and I’m just so happy for everyone."


2020 Spelling Bee

PHOTO: After winning the 2020 District Spelling Bee, 4th grader Kate Kondela poses for a photo with her mother, Anna. District 401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


2020 District 401 Spelling Bee Qualifiers


ELMWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

JOHN MILLS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Alexandria Butler

4th grade

Kristian Caushaj

5th grade

Samuel Cabrera

6th grade

Kornel Czerwiec

6th grade

Alex Centeno

6th grade

Marta Dabrowski

4th grade

Kelly Dietrich * 

6th grade

Michelle Garcia

6th grade

Gregory Escobar-Rivera

5th grade

Nicole Gorka

5th grade

Anthony Huaman *

6th grade

Jill Hayes *

5th grade

Kate Kondela

4th grade

AJ Hernandez

5th grade

Jade Ponce *

5th grade

Elise Kanable

4th grade

Mel Rubio *

5th grade

Bella Molinelli

6th grade

Ayah Sison

4th grade

Izabella Weiss

6th grade

Donald Yu

5th grade

Hania Xhafa

6th grade

* Qualified last year as well

* Qualified last year as well


Photos from the 2020 District Spelling Bee


The following photos were taken by District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca at this year's District 401 Spelling Bee, which was held Tuesday, Jan. 14, at Elmwood Elementary. Click any image for a larger view. To see more photos from the event, click here for a photo gallery.


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


2020 Spelling Bee


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