Columbia, Mo. (May 18, 2021) — The annual Scripps Spelling Bee, hosted by the Columbia Missourian on March 24, looked different this year. Associate Professor Elizabeth Stephens and her students in the Event Planning and Promotion class were able to execute an in-person Bee that mid-Missouri third through eighth grade students will never forget.
Although COVID-19 has caused a variety of unprecedented events, Stephens found it critical that her students and participating spellers get the full Bee experience while following COVID-19 guidelines.
“We still felt strongly that there is something special about a traditional bee where you get the word, and the child spells it out into a mic, and that mostly mimics the national one,” said Stephens. “However, MU limited events to just 20 people, so we were trying to find the magic number and minimize the number of people in the room.”
In previous years, the Missourian would host around 55 students in Jesse Hall on MU’s campus to compete in the Spelling Bee. This year, the number of participants was cut in half to 25 in accordance with COVID restrictions. Stephens and her students ultimately decided to hold an online test for all 25 school champions, and the Missourian invited the top 15 to compete in-person.
Precautions were taken to keep everyone safe during the event, which took place at the Missouri School of Journalism’s Reynolds Journalist Institute. These included:
- The final 15 were able to invite one parent to join them.
- While the parents watched from one room in RJI, the spellers competed in a different room in order to comply with social distancing recommendations.
- The mic used by the spellers had a cover on it and was replaced after each use.
- The pronouncer, judge and timekeeper were allowed in the room with the kids during the event.
- Spellers and parents were directed to socially distance six feet apart through the entirety of the event.
Students in the class were divided into three teams to tackle the event: social media and communications, design, and production. The array of positions allowed students to complete the event tasks smoothly and effectively.
Hayley Vawter, a senior print and digital reporting student, was the team leader of the social media and communications team. Some of her preliminary duties included communicating between parents and teachers, ensuring students and schools were enrolled in the event, and to make sure all students had taken the online course to help determine the top 15.
Vawter and her team also took initiative on live-tweeting and creating Instagram stories from the Columbia Missourian account, tackling press releases, and developing creative activities for participants such as words of the week and Spelling Bee trivia.
“The biggest part of it was communicating with the schools and the parents to make sure everything went smoothly,” said Vawter. “Because of COVID, this year we approached the planning of the event differently than the past, and we had a lot more kinks to work out.”
Stephanie Lubinski, a junior and the event product team manager, was in charge of logistics. Some of her tasks included adhering to COVID restrictions, managing set-up and break down of the event, assigning tasks to classmates, and drafting emails to spellers’ parents.
“It ended up being pretty similar to what a normal spelling bee would be like,” said Lubinski. “Everyone kind of got a sense of normalcy by being in-person and getting to do a walkthrough of what an actual bee is like.”
With another successful — and COVID-free — Bee completed, those behind the event are looking for ways to move forward in what’s expected to be a return to normal in 2022. However, regardless of the circumstances, the students of the Event Planning and Promotion class know they can handle whatever comes their way.
Updated: May 18, 2021