Bee spells Success

Adult Spelling Bee creates buzz for adult education

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

The Blount County Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee competition is heated, and the experience is fun for the participants.

But the spellers leave more than a good time in their wake. It’s the beneficiaries of the fundraiser, adult students learning
to read or obtain a GED, who reap the long-term benefits.

The 12th annual Blount County Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee is set for 1 p.m. on April 28. The competition will be at the Blount campus of Pellissippi State Technical Community College.

Carol Ergenbright, coordinator with Adult Education at the Everett Learning Opportunities Center on Jett Road in Maryville, said the Spelling Bee is similar to the one for children in some ways and different in others. The Adult Spelling Bee used the same books as the students. The adults, however, work as a team of two and can write the word out to check their spelling.

"You can discuss it with your partner. It eliminates the pressure, and it’s pure fun," she said.

The crowd often gets into the competition. "The people in the audience enjoy it, too. Everyone writes the words down, trying to figure it out," she said.

During breaks in the competition, the master of ceremonies challenges people in the audience to spell a word.

"Get it right and get a chance at a door prize," Ergenbright said. "It’s fun for the spectators in the audience."

The fund raising part comes about because each team has a sponsor who pays for their team to be in the event.

Gold Sponsors, who pay $500, get a special benefit. "If a team pays $500, that team gets a second chance at a word," said Ergenbright.

Some companies will make donations to be combined with another companies’ donation to get enough to sponsor a team. In addition to the Gold Sponsors, there are $300 sponsorships for a team and $150 for a shared sponsorship.

In 2006, Blount Memorial Hospital’s team won the Spelling Bee. The team from the Maryville Kiwanis Club took second place, Ergenbright said.

The Literacy Council was formed in 1986. "We serve 600 people a year in adult education," she said.

The Adult Education classes at Everett meet during the day and evening. Teachers help individuals prepare for pre-employment tests as well as Graduation Equivalency Diplomas. Students also can take adult literacy classes at the facility.

"We’ve become known for our GED classes," said Ergenbright. "We also help people with reading skills, writing and basic math. We also offer English as a second language classes – both speaking and writing. We offer these classes free of charge."

Ergenbright said former students often come back to say thanks. One student whom she didn’t identify returned and thanked the staff for helping her get her GED, adding that she was then able to get certification as an emergency medical technician and obtained a job with Rural/Metro Ambulance Service. "Her dream has come true," Ergenbright said. "Getting a GED can open doors to a better life."

Ergenbright said not everyone who comes for help needs the GED. One mother came because her child was in third grade and was needing help with math homework, and the mother needed a refresher course on the subject.

"They need these skills so their children won’t have the same problems," she said. "They want their children to be successful in school."

Ergenbright said teaching adult students has advantages. "One of the things about teaching adults students is they’re here voluntarily," she said. "They want to learn. They’re very motivated."

When adults get out in the world, they find they need the reading and math skills. That’s why they return to get help. The Adult Education staff and the assistance given by the Literacy Council gives these individuals a second chance to get education skills they need, Ergenbright said.

Terry Ray of Blount County never thought he would be asking for homework. Now he can’t wait to get it.

The 19-year-old is one of many adults who get help at the Adult Education center at Everett, which receives funding help from the Literacy Council.

Ray, who dropped out of school as a teen, said that the staff is helping him get his GED so he can then enter the National Guard. From there he plans to go to college and degree in video art design.

"They’re helping me a lot. They explain everything well and go back and help you," he said. "They’ll stop class and help you."

Ray was on the fast track program to prepare him to take the GED. Once he passes it, he said he’ll embark on his National Guard career. "Then I’ll go to college. I never thought I’d go to college," he said.

Tonya Holt of Maryville said she has been out of school for 17 years after dropping out her junior year. She recently decided to obtain her GED.

"I didn’t think I’d ever come back," she said. "I want to be a nurse. That’s something I always wanted to do."

Holt was very complimentary of the staff. "If you have any questions, they’re there for you," she said.

Studying again didn’t come easy to her but Holt said she got into a routine. "You may not be used to it, but you get used to it," she said.

Holt said anyone who hasn’t graduated but still wants to pursue a career should get their GED. "You can be whatever you want to be," she said. "Set your mind to it."

Ergenbright explained how the Adult Education staff and the Literacy Council work together to help adults in Blount County.

The school system provides teachers and a facility and the council provides additional funding. The Literacy Council fills the gaps, pays for additional instructors, office supplies, books and other items needed, she said.

"I don’t know what we would do without the Literacy Council. They also pay for (GED) graduation," she said.

The council also helps pick up the tab for administering the GED. The center gives the GED locally once a month, she said.

"It’s not an easy test," Ergenbright said. "It’s normally (designed) so that 30 to 40 percent of graduating seniors couldn’t pass it. It’s a very challenging test."

For information about the Blount County Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee or the Adult Education center, call 982-8998 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Evening classes also are offered from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The money raised by the Blount County Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee goes to help adults improve their lives through educational opportunities.

Teams are now being recruited. To be a Team Sponsor or a Gold Sponsor, call 865-982-8998. The competition will be held during Adult Literacy Week, which will also have other activities in Blount County, including an Open House and Staff and Volunteer Appreciation Day, and a Ride for Literacy.


By the Numbers
The following statistics were supplied by the Adult Literacy Council regarding the financial impact of Blount County GED recipients.

  • Number of GED’s achieved in 2005-2006: 180
  • Average dollars invested in students 2005-2006: $300
  • Total investment in GED recipients 2005-2006: $54,000
  • Annual income differential (increase) on part of GED recipient: $7,400
  • Total increase in taxable income per year: $1,332,000

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