Spelling Bee

Meet the students repping Philly in the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year

Would you have been able to spell “liaise”?

(L to R) First place finisher Jeremy Landau, second place finisher Eyianna Dunn, and third place finisher Tallulah Green Hull on stage in the final round of the WHYY-Billy Penn Regional Spelling Bee on March 26 at Penn Alexander School

(L to R) First place finisher Jeremy Landau, second place finisher Eyianna Dunn, and third place finisher Tallulah Green Hull on stage in the final round of the WHYY-Billy Penn Regional Spelling Bee on March 26 at Penn Alexander School

Lisa Wilk / WHYY
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When she’s not spelling words like “bumptious” and “vermicide,” Eyianna Dunn is either listening to music, playing GTA or Fortnite, or hanging out with her brothers.

The 6th grader at Samuel Gompers School in Wynnefield took second place in the WHYY-Billy Penn Regional Spelling Bee.

“Thank you for bringing me here, Dad,” Dunn said from the stage after the regionals at Penn Alexander School in late March, smiling softly as she held up her antennae’d bee bobblehead trophy.

Dunn will be one of three students to represent Philadelphia at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Third place finisher Eyianna Dunn is a 6th grader at Samuel Gompers School

Third place finisher Eyianna Dunn is a 6th grader at Samuel Gompers School

Lisa Wilk / WHYY

The competition, which has been held since 1925, takes place this year at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just downriver from Washington DC. Actor LeVar Burton will host the semifinals on June 1 and the finals on June 2, both televised on Ion and Bounce.

Each of the top three Philadelphia regional winners this year gets a paid trip to the nationals, thanks to sponsors Janet and Jim Averill and the Bissell Family Foundation. Dunn said she’s been to the U.S. capital before, but is planning on making new memories, including a stop by the White House.

Dunn, who went out on the word “gaucho,” said the second place win at regionals came as a bit of a surprise. Teachers had encouraged her to participate, but she didn’t get the chance to study all of the words.

Regional bee winner Jeremy Landau is an 8th grader at Masterman

Regional bee winner Jeremy Landau is an 8th grader at Masterman

Lisa Wilk / WHYY

Not so for first place finisher Jeremy Landau, an 8th grader at Masterman School in Spring Garden, who won the top spot by successfully spelling “phoenix.”

Known at his school for being a good speller, Landau has been eagerly anticipating this moment. He won third place at the 5th grade spelldown in 2019, losing on the word “consonants” — which he said he’ll never get wrong again.

Then the pandemic canceled the next two regional bees, setting up a long wait for redemption.

This time around, Landau was determined not to let any word stop him. He practiced with his mom, spelling each word over and over until he got it right, and got extra help from his teacher, Ms. Brunner, who he said helps run the spelling bee at his school.

He’s excited to go to D.C., not to see the monuments, but to be “in the presence of such great spellers,” Landau said. “I think I’m going to have to step up my training.”

When he’s not spelling, Landau is either reading or constructing intricate designs out of LEGO, like a Ferris wheel that actually spins.

(L to R) Judges Otis Hackney, Asali Solomon, and Cassie Haynes, next to pronouncer Avi Wolfman-Arent

(L to R) Judges Otis Hackney, Asali Solomon, and Cassie Haynes, next to pronouncer Avi Wolfman-Arent

Lisa Wilk / WHYY

The judges for this year’s regional bee were Otis Hackney, chief education officer for the City of Philadelphia; Asali Solomon, a novelist and Haverford professor; and Cassie Haynes, co-director of journalism nonprofit Resolve Philly. They were joined on stage by Avi Wolfman-Arent, taking off from his day job as WHYY radio host and reporter to serve as official pronouncer.

Third-place finisher Tallulah Green Hull, who got stumped by the word “liaise,” said competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee could mark her first time on TV — but hopefully not her last.

The 8th grader at Henry H. Houston Elementary in Mt. Airy is headed to CAPA for high school next year, where she plans to study theater.

Emcee Sakeenah Benjamin interviews third place finisher Tallulah Green Hull, an 8th grader at Henry Hudson Elementary

Emcee Sakeenah Benjamin interviews third place finisher Tallulah Green Hull, an 8th grader at Henry Hudson Elementary

Lisa Wilk / WHYY

Green Hull and her brother, Samuel, who participated in this year’s 5th grade spelldown, spent a lot of time practicing together. It was a fun way to learn new words, she said, noting she could see how a good vocabulary would help her as an actress or psychologist in the future.

For now, she just wants to spell at least one word on live television.

“I’m really excited,” Green Hull said. “I can’t wait to be up there and represent my city, my school, my neighborhood.”

Want some more? Explore other Spelling Bee stories.

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