La Jolla students show their spelling stuff at local bee

Maven Lizotte, Grayson So and Carson Wu are the top three winners in the fourth- and fifth-grade division.
From left, Maven Lizotte, Grayson So and Carson Wu are the top three winners in the fourth- and fifth-grade division of the Coastwise Spelling Prize bee.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Coastwise Spelling Prize gives second- through fifth-graders at La Jolla’s three public elementary schools a chance to compete and learn.


“This year, I hope to go out with a bang,” Grayson So said about an hour before the Coastwise Spelling Prize bee April 26 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

And so he did. The fourth-grader at Torrey Pines Elementary School won his division of the bee for the second year in a row, beating out 15 other fourth- and fifth-grade competitors.

For the record:

9:20 a.m. April 30, 2023This article has been corrected to say that Grayson So attends Torrey Pines Elementary School.

Maven Lizotte and Carson Wu, both fifth-graders at La Jolla Elementary School, took second and third place, respectively.

From left, the top three finishers in the second- and third-grade division: Levi Pancer, Charlie Fiorentino and Liam Burke
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Levi Pancer, a second-grader at Bird Rock Elementary School, took first place over 26 other second- and third-grade students in the first competition of the afternoon.

Levi said he wanted to enter the bee because “I’m really competitive and also I really like to learn new things.”

This was Levi’s first time entering a spelling bee. Winning “feels great,” he said.

Charlie Fiorentino, a third-grader at Torrey Pines Elementary, took second place and Liam Burke, in third grade at Bird Rock, placed third.

The event was open in the two divisions to second- through fifth-graders at La Jolla’s three public elementary schools (La Jolla, Bird Rock and Torrey Pines). The addition of second-graders was new this year.

The top three finishers in each division earned certificates. The first-place winners also received trophies. All participants took home a grab bag of trinkets.

During last year’s inaugural event, sponsored by Coastwise Capital Group in La Jolla, Grayson won in the third-grade division (children competed in single grade levels last year).

Scott Kyle, founder of Coastwise, said he established the bee to foster a love of language, vocabulary, communication skills and self-confidence.

“We’re honored to have everyone here,” he said. “It’s a ton of fun for us to put on the event.”

To open the April 26 bee, Kyle and Coastwise colleague Trystan Cleaver welcomed the students with a video message from Mihir Konkapaka, 12, who won the San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee in March.

Mihir offered words of encouragement to the participants and wished them well on wherever their spelling journey takes them.

For each division, the first two rounds were practice with no eliminations. In the third round, the number of second- and third-grade participants dropped from the original 27 to 20.

Torrey Pines Elementary School second-grader Lana Woodhouse says entering spelling bees makes for good learning.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Torrey Pines Elementary second-grader Lana Woodhouse, who was eliminated in the third round on the word “fabric,” said participation in the bee “is good to practice and learn more. [Being eliminated] is fine. It’s a learning opportunity.”

The second- and third-grade competition was whittled to 10 students in the fourth round and two by the eighth round, when Levi won by correctly spelling “memorandum.”

The fourth- and fifth-grade competition, which included words such as “quizzical,” “succulent” and “carpal,” lasted seven rounds, with Grayson claiming the top spot with the word “spectacle.”

“That’s two!” he said.

Grayson prepared for this year’s bee the same way he did last year, by having his mother read words to him over and over.

Kyle said he hopes to expand the bee further next year by inviting students from private La Jolla elementary schools to participate.

Grayson, who will be in fifth grade then, said he plans to enter again.

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