Lua Prado, Contributing Photographer

New Haven Reads, a nonprofit organization promoting literacy in the city, hosted its 11th Annual Spelling Bee fundraiser last Friday. The event drew a crowd of over 400 spectators at the Yale School of Management.

This year’s competition — back in-person after four years online — drew teams from all across New Haven, including Yale, New Haven Public Schools and local businesses. The teams included participants representing the Yale British Art Center, Yale African American affinity groups, the Yale University Department of Linguistics, The Study at Yale, Quinnipiac University, Omega Pi Beta Sorority, two teams from St. Martin de Porres Academy, Hopkins School and Wilbur Cross High School. 

“We love that a Spelling Bee speaks to our mission and gives people a chance to move on from their grade school spelling bee memories and have a great time with family and friends,” Fiona Bradford, Development and Communications Director of New Haven Reads wrote to the News. “It has become a fixture on the community calendar, and we love to see the creativity and the competition among our teams every year.”

Since 2001, New Haven Reads has tutored 7,000 students and distributed more than 2.5 million books around the Greater New Haven area. The organization is currently working with 350 students in individual tutoring. Their literacy activities include playing educational games, explaining new vocabulary, discussing books and practicing the sound of words. New Haven Reads has locations on Dixwell Avenue, in Science Park, on Willow Street and Bristol Street. 

All of their activities are free to students and made possible by the contribution of donors and volunteers. The audience cheered while hearing New Haven Reads leaders share emotional stories about the organization’s impact at the spelling bee event. 

“Just last week I asked [one of the kids] how long she wanted to continue coming to New Haven Reads, and she looked up and said ‘until I can come back as a teacher,’” Kristen Levinsoh, spoke at her initial speech. 

The competition had teams of three adults who compete in five rounds of spelling challenges each. The team had 20 seconds to write their given word correctly on the whiteboard and present it to the judges. 

The winning team from each of the five proceeding rounds then advanced onto the championship competition, where one team earned “the glory of being the Spelling Bee Champions!”

Bradford wrote that she often meets people who have told her they are still impacted by doing poorly in their grade school spelling bee. 

“I love that they can come to our Bee and have fun and perhaps banish those demons!” she said. 

The event was hosted by Christine Huber and Ray Andrewsen, who engaged with the audience while leading the six rounds of competition. All of the teams had creative names, such as “Irish we could spell,” “Beauty and the Bee-sts” and “Zombies” and were dressed in coordinated costumes. In addition to the winning spots for the spelling bee champions, New Haven Reads offers prizes for “best costume,” “best team name” and “most spirit” to keep the community engaged and the energy high.

Audience members attended the spelling bee with a suggested $10 donation and had the option to enter an “audience-based version of the bee” for a prize of their own. Organizers told the News that many of the audience members played along with the spelling bee. 

The proceeds from the event including registration fees, audience donations and raffle tickets, all has gone toward New Haven Read’s literacy programs.

“The spelling bee is a great way to engage our supporters and hopefully share our mission and work with some new people,” Bradford wrote. “We could not achieve the success that we have without our students without our community, so it is great to bring the people together in a fun way for a serious purpose.”

With 32 competing teams, The Linguinis, a team representing the Yale Department of Linguistics, won the competition with the word “stromuhr”. The competitors on the team, Jem Burch ’25, Conan Thibodeau ’27 and Jessica Brown, a Fulbright student from Switzerland, told the News that they had a great time participating and getting to learn more about New Haven Reads. 

The spelling bee fundraiser originally began in 2012. 

Brooklyn Brauner serves as a staff reporter for the City desk, covering Nonprofits and Social Services throughout New Haven, in addition to serving as the Thursday Newsletter Editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently a sophomore in Grace Hopper College studying Political Science.
Lua Prado covers education & youth services and immigration & international communities in New Haven and writes the Tuesday Newsletter. Originally from Sergipe, Brazil, she is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College, double majoring in Political Science and English.