Thomas Hooker student wins Meriden spelling bee

MERIDEN — After a lengthy competition putting the language skills of 11 Meriden students to the test, Thomas Hooker Elementary School’s Hunter Lafarriere was named champion of the 2023 Citywide Spelling Bee on Wednesday night. 

Lafarriere took home the gold after breezing through 13 rounds and successfully spelling out both runner-up Victoria Kiszkiel of Ben Franklin Elementary’s final word, “squirrel,” and the final challenge word, “subscription.”

The other finalists competing in the event for fifth- and sixth-graders were Noah Figueroa of Hanover Elementary, Marcus Hernandez of Edison Middle School, Ayah Katim of Nathan Hale Elementary, Rosa Nkuriye of Washington Middle School, Olivia Quinlan of Casimir Pulaski Elementary, Khadija Ramlek of Roger Sherman Elementary, Malichai Rivera-Malkowski of Lincoln Middle School, Savannah Shider of Israel Putnam Elementary and Aiden Spence of John Barry Elementary.

The eleven students were the top spellers from each of their respective schools, having won their district spelling bee before coming together for a citywide championship.

Runners up from each of Meriden’s participating schools were in attendance — Ellie Beck of Lincoln, Robinson Chow of Edison, Mohammed Farhan, of Ben Franklin, Harper Glass of Hanover, Liam Hoffman of Israel Putnam, Kassie Jablonski of Washington, Sam Parcella of Nathan Hale, Yarielys Pineiro Alvarez of Casimir Pulaski, Ahsan Sheikh of John Barry, Anu Smith of Thomas Hooker and Taylor Vogle of Roger Sherman. Each student received certificates and were recognized for their success in the local spelling bees.

Lafarriere maintained his composure even as fellow students slowly trickled off stage. He meticulously prepared for Wednesday night by drilling with a list of words sent home to competitors, focusing most heavily on words he initially struggled to spell.

“I was pretty confident for all of it,” Lafarriere said. “I worked a lot at home and in school. I had my mom quiz me with a paper they sent home and then she would mark up the words I got wrong, and then I would keep practicing those words over and over.”

Lafarriere said he kept his mind sharp during the bee by attempting to spell out words in his head given to other contestants as he waited for his turn.

“I was mostly focusing on what other people were getting and then spelling it out so I was prepared in case I got that word later on,” he said.

The competition was judged by Board of Education Member Tony Martorelli, as well as Kiwanis Club Director Michelle Bourdeau, and club President Brian Confrancesco. Club Director David Wyskiel served as bee master.

The 2023 spelling bee marked a triumphant return for an event that was largely put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bee, which was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Meriden and the Record-Journal, saw logistical challenges and a drop in attendance over the past several years, said Kiwanis Club Director Cathy Battista, who supervised the event.

Battista said this year’s bee brought in higher attendance than past years. She is hopeful the event will continue to grow moving forward.

“We basically couldn’t do it during that timeframe, so it’s exciting to be back,” Battista said.


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