And now, a word from your local “Word Master,” Charlotte Nelson.
For the past 10 years, this co-founding member of Guilford Fund for Education (GFFE) and past chair of GFFE’s Grants Committee has also pitched in as a GFFE Adult Spelling Bee co-word master. On Friday, March 11, GFFE “Spell-a-brates” a decade of supporting educational innovation in town with the 10th annual GFFE Adult Spelling Bee.
Once again, Charlotte will be back in the heart of the hive as the big Bee comes in for a landing in the brand-new auditorium at Guilford High School (GHS) from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 11. Audience admission is free for this phenomenal community event, where costumed teams from local businesses, organizations, and even neighborhoods compete in spelldown “swarms,” vying to win some good-natured bragging rights for a year and have their name immortalized on the Bee’s traveling “Best of Hive” trophy.
From last year’s winning word (accrescence) to one of Charlotte’s all-time favorites (shiitake) many of the words tripping off the tongue of perennial emcee Darren Kramer of WTNH News 8 have been located, looked up, used in a sentence, or otherwise vetted by Charlotte. She searches for Bee-worthy words year-round.
“It can happen anywhere—I’m always on the lookout,” says Charlotte, who actually enjoys “browsing through the dictionary” to find le mot juste.
“I even keep a list on my iPhone, so if I come across a great word, I can add it right away,” she says.
Her annual word master work generates approximately 45 different words to be given out during each Bee—but just to be safe, Charlotte always arrives armed with about 90 words.
She also has a tried-and-true Bee formula to ramp up word difficulty and challenge teams during rounds, or, in Bee-speak, swarms. A typical GFFE Bee starts out with 49 teams in seven swarms, and continues until just two teams are left to battle it out for the championship.
“I like to start them off with what I call my ‘comfort words,’ because I want everyone to be comfortable and have some words they should be able to spell without too much trouble,” says Charlotte.
The words gain an increasing level of difficulty among all swarms as the night progresses. Even if a word seems hard, Charlotte encourages every team to think creatively: consider how it’s being used in a sentence, think of factors such as etymology, and remember, “they’re in this together.”
“There are three of you up there, so you can put your heads together,” she says.
Together with GFFE Bee co-Word Master Diana Mastromarino (Diana also lends words to the list, as well as proofreads and packages each year’s final word sets for each swarm), Charlotte has built a GFFE word bank of well over 800 words.
“I really do love words,” says Charlotte. “I just collected about a dozen words last night, and there are four I can add to this year’s list. The rest maybe will be for next year...or I may use one this year, because I like it so much!”
It may sound easy, but the volunteer job requires attention to detail to avoid raising a word that could be challenged on Bee night.
“Every year, I sweat it out,” Charlotte confesses.
As she explains, many words which may seem Bee-worthy might not make the cut, for reasons such as having an obscure second spelling, like another of Charlotte’s favorites, “traipse.”
The work is exacting, but it’s also enjoyable for this former educator and administrator. As a member of Guilford Public Schools, Charlotte served as principal of Melissa Jones Elementary School (MJS) for many years before she retired in 2006.
That same year, non-profit, community-based GFFE was just getting off the ground. Co-founder Joe Goldberg invited Charlotte to sign on with the small group of dedicated citizen volunteers working to build GFFE.
“Joe knew I had grant-writing experience,” says Charlotte, who immediately joined GFFE. “I wanted to help because I knew grants were a big component of our plans.”
Charlotte went on to head the GFFE Grants Committee on which she still serves as a member. In those early years, she produced and fine-tuned the protocol for GFFE grant applications, with her goal to “make it easy” to apply, she says.
“Just doing so many grants myself, I knew you’ve got to make it easy, or people aren’t going to do it,” Charlotte says.
Over the ensuing decade, GFFE grants have supported dozens of innovative ideas, programs, and practices. In 2014-’15 alone, GFFE grants funded a library “imagination station” at Baldwin Middle School, helped a citizen and Women & Family Life Center develop a Kids HUGS program for children with critically ill parents, backed an 8th-grade student’s dream to put an autism awareness group in front of Adams and Baldwin middle school kids, sponsored “The Learning Garden” at Calvin Leete School, allowed a MJS teacher to start “Fitness Friday” exercise programs, helped Guilford DAY (Developmental Assets for Youth) bring former NBA star Chris Herron to town to talk to students and families about his former drug addiction, and awarded a grant to purchase an Imagination Playground at North Guilford Nursery School. In early 2016, a GFFE grant was put into action at A.W. Cox School to train several teachers in mindfulness to help students increase engagement and focus.
The GFFE Bee was started as a “friendraiser” to help raise awareness about GFFE. Now, the annual Bee helps generate between $10,000 and $11,000 for GFFE grants, says Charlotte. Teams and sponsoring organizations donate a registration fee to join the fun. There’s still time to sign on as a 2016 GFFE Bee team or team sponsor; visit www.gffe.org to get involved.
With enthusiastic and aptly named teams (one gem from previous Bees: the Guilford Republican Town Committee “Spellephants”) and cheering friends and fans who can also compete in the audience Bee or choose to peruse the Bee’s fabulous food court, the GFFE Bee is simply “such a great night for the entire community,” says Charlotte.
“We’ve always filled the auditorium at the old Guilford High School, so this year, we’re really excited to be in the new high school, and we hope many, many people will come out to enjoy the Bee. It’s free and it’s a wonderful night, for a great cause.”