Kalleb Oliveira wins Islandwide spelling bee

‘Extinguish’ wins Charter School student a spot on Scripps national stage.


The Islandwide spelling bee returned to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center (PAC) Friday after the competition was canceled for two consecutive years due to COVID. It was a nailbiter. Even with such skilled competition, Kalleb Oliveira, a fifth grader from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, took home the win, correctly spelling the word “extinguish.”

Islandwide spelling bee coordinator Jean Holenko said she is excited to have the spelling bee back for the whole community to enjoy, adding that it’s an even sweeter experience to have such a significant audience to cheer on the competitors. “It’s so much more exciting and fun for the school to be here and really cheer on the students who are participating,” Holenko said. “All the people who work together to help put this event on, that’s really a huge part of it.”

The event was sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times. Times director of publications Connie Berry and Martha’s Vineyard Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea served as judges, while Times proofreader Barbara Davis was the pronouncer for the competition. 

As students and families began to filter into the PAC, the anticipation steadily grew, and the excitement of having students from all the Island schools together in one space was apparent from the moment the first row of audience seats was filled. Some competitors read their practice word sheets with intense concentration, and others had their parents or siblings quiz them. 

Esme Colon, an eighth grade speller from the Tisbury School, sat next to her parents and waited for the competition to begin. Esme’s father, Tim Colon, said he was extremely proud of his daughter, and commented on her skill in writing ever since she was little. Esme’s mother, Tricia Sirakovsky, said Esme is also an excellent writer, so she thought these qualities would bode well for her in the spelling bee.

Madison Curelli, a sixth grade competitor representing the Oak Bluffs School, said she did a lot of reading and practicing in order to prepare for the day. “We also have reading homework, so I do a lot of reading,” Madison said. “I’ve been practicing my spelling all day. I feel a little nervous because I know the whole sixth grade is coming over to watch.”

Madison’s younger sister, Adriana, said she has been helping Madison practice — the two siblings were even studying in the car on the way to the bee. “I was in the school spelling bee with her. I’m really happy for her,” Adriana said. 

Addison McDonough, grade 7, represented the Edgartown School. She said she was a mix of nervous and excited, but happy to be at this level in the competition. “It would be really cool to go to Washington, D.C.,” she said. 

Madelyn Crowell, a fellow Edgartown School seventh grader and close friend of Addison’s, said she thinks it’s great her friend gets to be a part of the spelling bee. “Especially helping her study the list of words for the classroom spelling bee and for this one,” Madelyn said. “At lunchtime we would all have our spelling bee lists out, and we would test each other.”

Kelso Gilman, grade 5, from Chilmark School, said before the bee that he was a little stressed, but proud to have made it to the Islandwide competition, despite the outcome. “I just know that whether I win it or not, I was in it, and I made it this far,” Kelso said. Kelso added that he also loves to read, and mainly likes to read fantasy books. 

Before the competition, Kalleb said he felt good and confident, albeit a bit nervous. “I practiced a lot, like every day. I will be very happy if I win today, because I worked really hard,” Kalleb said. 

As Kalleb gathered up his accolades and embraced his family and friends, he said he thought he was going to get tripped up on the word “frivolous,” but he took his time and sounded it out. 

“It feels really good to have won. I’ve never been in a spelling bee like this before,” Kalleb said.

Kalleb’s older brother, Abner, a fellow Charter School student, was there to congratulate him on a job well done. “I’m so proud of you, I know you could do it after all those days of studying. I knew you would be able to get up there and win it,” Abner said.

Charter School Director Pete Steedman spoke excitedly about Kalleb’s big win, saying that the school community is already celebrating his achievement.

“We are literally screaming and dancing down the hallways in celebration of Kalleb. He is such an incredible young man, and so deserving of this,” Steedman said. Steedman continued to say that Kalleb has always been a strong academic, but the school was cheering for more than just his spelling prowess.

“Of course, the cheers that were roaring down State Road after the bee were because of this amazing accomplishment, but also his friends and family were cheering because he is just a tremendous person, and is so caring and kind,” Steedman said. “We are really pleased for him and his family.”