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Sebastian Matthews and two of his St Gabriel’s School classmates spelt their way to the top in the 2021 ICBL Starcom Junior National Spelling Bee.

On Monday (November 29), Matthews beat out 55 other finalists to be crowned the Spelling Bee Champion. Second place went to Renelle Best while Ezra Sikkens copped the third-place spot.

“I never really thought that I would make it. I am really-really happy and excited. It was a fun experience. The teachers should be really happy right now… Honestly, I feel like our school is one of the best,” Matthews said.

While likening the experience to a dream, Matthews was especially happy for his prizes which included $2500 from ICBL, a new laptop, a trip for two to a Caribbean destination and a $100 gift voucher from Deana Dash.

ICBL also presented a $2500 prize to the St Gabriel School. Class teacher Susanna Gall who accepted the prize on the school’s behalf, said, ”If I could use one of the words that they had to spell today, I think I can say that we feel ‘ecstatic’ about their performance”.

Gall noted that fellow Junior 4 teacher Annabelle Thornton also worked with the students who sacrificed half - hour from their lunch period to practice as many as 40 words a day and go through the competition rules.

“It paid off. We expected them to do well, but we never expected to go home with 1,2,3. I am overjoyed with the result,” Gall said.
In addressing the opening ceremony of the finals held at Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, ICBL Chief Executive Officer Geoff Scott said that in 2018 when his Marketing and Communications team first broached the idea of an ICBL National Spelling Bee the immediate response was, “Absolutely, let’s do this!”

“At that time, it was identified that attention to reading and spelling was waning, and that there was something that we could do as the leading insurance company in Barbados. We knew we had the resources, the people, the energy to bring the excitement back to this area,” Scott said.

He emphasized that ICBL staged the first successful competition in 2019 with the intention of it being an annual event, but the Covid-19 pandemic prevented this the following year. “We were disappointed, but we had to put safety first,” Scott said.

While adding that ICBL continues to take youth development seriously, he noted that the disruption caused by Covid 19 for almost two years had been a challenge for all, including his daughter who missed the hugs from her friends and face-to-face lessons from her teachers.

“I feel it too. At ICBL, most of us are not working in office anymore. Most of us are working from home and seeing each other on screens too; we are working the same way you are at school,” he added.

Scott also thanked the Starcom Network, which celebrates the40th anniversary of Voice Of Barbados 92.9 this year, for collaborating with ICBL to bring the Spelling Bee back as a face-to-face event in a safe and controlled environment.

Similarly, Head of Marketing and Communications at ICBL, Averil Byer, praised the ICBL and Starcom partnership because of the shared values regarding literacy and the importance of learning and reading. She added that electronic devices had changed the way many children read and speak, and ICBL believed that now was a great time for children to get the idea of reading and spelling.

“This is a very difficult time that we are going through with Covid, and it has created a very different environment, so I understand what teachers and children are going through. In this current environment, to let your children come out and be a part of an exercise like this, I think, is very commendable,” Byer said.

Jahzarra Laurent of Gordon Greenidge Primary School and Dimitri Kirton of The Rock Christian Primary School rounded out the top five. Seventy-two children from 12 public and private primary schools and one homeschooler participated in the competition.