Durham Public Schools is set to send fourth-grader Frank Dumas to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on June 2.
Dumas, who will represent the Durham and Orange counties region, will compete against more than 200 other regional spelling bee winners, who are in or below eighth grade, from all over the country.
“I’m excited, but I’m also nervous about it,” Dumas said.
He's won several local competitions, such as ones in his classroom, across his grade level and eventually a schoolwide spelling bee at Bethesda Elementary School, where he and his twin sister Ana are students in the same class. Here, his classmates excitedly cheered him on via Zoom.
He then competed in a regional spelling bee that was held virtually and hosted by Duke University.
Bethesda Elementary School Principal Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence said Dumas spelled 49 out of 50 words correctly at this competition.
“It was really exciting to tell the rest of the kids that he was moving forward past the regional one and going to D.C.,” Nicole Thompson, Dumas' fourth-grade teacher, said.
Dumas' win wasn't a surprise to the teachers and family members who know him best as a hardworking and dedicated student.
“They’re always putting 110 percent into anything that we’re doing throughout the day," Thompson said of the Dumas siblings. "They never need redirecting. They're always incredibly invested in it for themselves."
To prepare for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Dumas has been practicing for 30 minutes a day with his parents and sister and will eventually move up to an hour a day, he said. They spend time pronouncing each word, spelling them and then pronouncing them again.
Maylene Smith, Dumas' Advanced Academics teacher, will also be working with him to learn and spell five to seven words a day.
“I’m just studying a lot, and I’m going to see what happens,” Dumas said.
The Dumas family has received an outpouring of support from students, staff, families and community members as news about the win spreads.
Dumas and his sister have been in the Durham Public Schools system since kindergarten, first at Mangum Elementary and now at Bethesda.
The siblings continue to learn outside of the classroom under the encouragement of their parents, Kenya Dumas and Frank Dumas III. For example, they are currently studying Spanish and French through the language app Duolingo.
“It’s just natural,” Kenya Dumas said. “I like to know what they’re doing so we can help reinforce it at home.”
Outside of schoolwork and spelling bees, Frank Dumas enjoys playing basketball and video games like NBA 2K22 — and his mother said he is already a Tar Heel fan.
It's that dedication in and out of the classroom that has propelled Dumas to his success in the spelling bee and rallied Bethesda Elementary and the greater Durham community in support of him.
“This is just a true testament of the strength of public education and the strength of the partnership between the home and the school,” Moore-Lawrence said.
The community will celebrate the Dumas family's send-off to Washington in late May. Duke University will pay for the expenses of the trip, including food, lodging and transportation to the national spelling bee for the family.
“I’m just excited for him to get the opportunity,” Smith said. “Very few people make it this far, and just the fact that he and his family get to go to D.C. and have the experience, that is just amazing to me, and just to be a part of the journey has been so exciting.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the location in which fourth-grader Frank Dumas' classmates cheered him on via Zoom. It was during a schoolwide spelling bee at Bethesda Elementary School. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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