Practice spells prizes for young La Jolla students in local bee

Fourth-grade Coastwise Spelling Prize winner Isabelle Fiorentino (left), with Quynh-Anh Genovese (center) and Mariam Sedky
Fourth-grade Coastwise Spelling Prize winner Isabelle Fiorentino (left) stands with fellow Torrey Pines Elementary School students Quynh-Anh Genovese (center) and Mariam Sedky.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The Walnut Lounge of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club was buzzing with excitement as dozens of local elementary school students converged for the first Coastwise Spelling Prize bee April 13.

The contest, sponsored by Coastwise Capital Group in La Jolla, was open to third- through fifth-grade students at La Jolla’s three public elementary schools (La Jolla, Bird Rock and Torrey Pines), with students competing by grade level.

The top three finishers in each grade level earned certificates and rare collector’s coins. The first-place winners also received trophies.

All participants walked away with a small goody bag.

Torrey Pines Elementary School third-grader Grayson So won his grade-level competition.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Torrey Pines Elementary School third-grader Grayson So beat 11 peers to take the trophy after several rounds of competition that began with words such as “jolly” and “cliff” and progressed to more complicated ones like “entrepreneur” and “carbohydrate.”

Grayson said the win felt great.

“At home, we had a list of [spelling words] and my mom gave me a word. We just practiced,” he said.

He said this was his first spelling bee.

Bird Rock Elementary School third-grader Vlad Baker placed second in his grade level.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The second-place third-grader, Vlad Baker from Bird Rock Elementary, practiced at home with his grandmother. He said he entered the bee to make her proud and that he felt good about his accomplishment.

As contestants were eliminated along the way, there were a few tears but mostly jubilant applause for the students’ efforts.

Torrey Pines Elementary fourth-grader Isabelle Fiorentino took the trophy in the contest for her grade level, which included nine other girls.

Isabelle said she’s not usually a good speller and that her win “was unexpected” as she tackled words such as “insubstantial,” “agriculture” and “contusion.”

Isabelle entered the competition “to try something new” and said she plans to enter more spelling bees in the future.

Fifth-grade winner Ayla Lakisic is from La Jolla Elementary School.
(Trystan Cleaver)

The fifth-grade winner was Ayla Lakisic from La Jolla Elementary. She could not be reached for comment.

Coastwise event coordinator Trystan Cleaver said the company intends to repeat the spelling bee annually.

The event, founded by Coastwise Chief Executive Scott Kyle, was originally scheduled for May 2020 but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fourth-grade girls compete in the Coastwise Spelling Prize bee April 13 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
Fourth-grade girls compete in the Coastwise Spelling Prize bee April 13 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Kyle and Cleaver began working on the spelling bee in early 2019. “There was no local spelling competition for the elementary school age group,” Cleaver said.

Kyle’s daughter, now in sixth grade at La Jolla’s Muirlands Middle School, “is an avid speller and devoted academic, which served as the inspiration for the event,” Cleaver said.

Each grade-level contest began with a video from Snigdha Nandipati, a San Diego native who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2012.

Nandipati encouraged the Coastwise Spelling Prize hopefuls to put effort toward activities they find most interesting.

“There’ll be a few times where some things don’t go as planned,” she said. “But that’s part of the journey.”

Nandipati said she didn’t win every spelling bee she entered. “In fact, I lost more than I won, especially in my beginning years,” she said. “But I stuck to it and I learned where I was going wrong and I was able to use that knowledge to help me.” ◆