Deadline to sign up for Austin spelling bee approaching

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Sherron Parker, a fifth-grader at May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne Ave., was once just a normal kid attending school in her Austin neighborhood and hanging out with her friends.

But since winning first place in her age group in a community-wide spelling bee last year, Sherron, 10, is now like a rock star.

“Everybody is nicer to me at school,” said Sherron, who won a computer and trophy for correctly spelling the word “cookie.” “When I won I was like, ‘I feel great,’ loud and enthusiastically. I was really happy.”

The buzz is spreading through Austin once again that the 2nd annual Spelling Bee is coming up on April 8, 9 and 10, at the Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. Registration packets have gone out to 23 neighborhood schools. Today — Saturday, March 20 — is the sign-up deadline.

A spelling bee in Austin was the brainchild of teens at Young Creative Minds, a nonprofit organization run by and geared toward troubled kids ages 13 to 19. The group was founded by Austin resident Danette King, who said she was beaten and raped as a young girl. King, 35, said she often looked for love on the streets, having her first of seven children at age 14.

So when she became an adult, King wanted to create a place where she could sit down and talk with kids, one-on-one, without disclosing anything to their parents. When the neighborhood’s Avalon Management, a real estate managing and developing firm, gave her a place to meet in the basement of one of its buildings and the Austin Safety Net Works kicked in $25,000, she was able to fulfill her vision.

What started with one kid and a flier became dozens of kids, all in dire need of help. King created the acronym she implements in the program: S.M.I.L.E., which stands for “self-respect, motivation, integrity, leadership and education.”

“These are things that I wanted as a child, but I didn’t get them,” said King, whose husband, Brian, is the event promoter and sponsor seeker. “These are the very same children that went through the same pain I went through.

“But they can look at themselves now and smile, they’re not angry any more,” said King, who’s working on a book about her experiences called “Behind Closed Doors.” “They have goals, dreams and they respect themselves now.

“That’s what I’m pushing for with S.M.I.L.E,” she said. “Those things will take them anywhere they want to go in life.”

Last year’s spelling bee drew approximately 50 kids from nine schools. Entertaining at that first event and at the upcoming one is Blaze On, a 24-year-old hip hop artist who called the spelling bee “positive” in a community where many kids are without outside resources or outlets and often have drug addicts as mothers, fathers and relatives.

“You gotta do whatever needs to be done that’s positive to help these kids learn,” said Blaze On, who lives just outside Austin. “There are a lot of people who don’t have it in their hearts to reach out to kids, but they need a role model that really cares. They don’t have anything.”

King said the three-day event keeps kids off the street. Winners receive a mini laptop computer, and King said she hopes to take first-place winners to Springfield to visit the state Capitol. Even those who don’t win walk away with a little something, such as movie tickets.

“It’s a good sense of accomplishment and it feels good,” King said. “All they need is someone to listen.”

May Community Academy’s Principal Roger Lewis agrees. Lewis said after Parker won last year, he got to know her and she now leads the school’s morning announcement. May Academy also had an eighth-grade runner-up last time, Savanna Young.

“We try at May to celebrate the small successes,” said Lewis. “This makes them (kids) feel good in the community, as opposed to all the negativity of living in the community.”

Lewis said the event instills confidence in winners such as Savanna and Sherron. For Sherron, the spelling bee was sweet as honey.

“I loved it,” she said.

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