Simon Johnson Wins CCUSD Spelling Bee

Simon Johnson stood tall and confidently spelled the word D-E-H-Y-D-R-A-T-I-O-N to take home the Fifth Annual Culver City Unified School District Spelling Bee title on Feb. 8 at the Robert Frost Auditorium.

Johnson, a fifth-grader at El Marino Language School, finished atop 23 other spellers, including last year’s champion Natasha Collier. Four students from each of the district’s five elementary schools and Culver City Middle School competed.

“I’ve come to the District Bee in the years before, so I knew what to expect,” said Johnson, 10. “I’ve really been practicing since third-grade, but once I knew I was going to be in the District Bee, I only practiced two or three times.”

Todd Johnson, Simon’s father, said the younger Johnson gets his spelling genes from his mother’s side of the family.

“I like to say that I passed on my spelling genes completely unused,” he said. “He and his mother have kept a list of the crazy words they come across in the newspaper or on NPR. Every time they see one, they look it up and write it down.”

In fact, Johnson’s mother, Susan Collins, helped her son study even though she was trapped in blizzard conditions back east.

“She was caught in the snow in Baltimore, but she called in and quizzed him over the phone,” Todd Johnson said.

The strategy obviously worked. Johnson took home a first-place trophy and a $250 savings bond courtesy of Westfield Fox Hills, which sponsored the event. He will advance to the Los Angeles County Spelling Bee, which will be held at 4 p.m. on March 19 at Almansor Court, 700 S. Almansor St., in Alhambra. The winner of that competition will advance to the statewide spelling bee in Sonoma in May.

Westfield also presented a trophy and a $150 savings bond to second-place finisher Elise Park, also a student at El Marino Language School; and a trophy and a $100 savings bond to third-place finisher Natasha Collier, a student at Culver City Middle School, who won the District Spelling Bee last year.

In addition, each participant received a certificate of commendation signed by the District’s superintendent congratulating him or her on reaching the Spelling Bee finals.

The CCUSD Spelling Bee will be broadcast on local television, Channel 35, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19 and will be webcast on the city’s website – – at the same time.

Congratulations to all of the Spelling Bee finalists: Culver City Middle School: Natasha Collier, Abel “Lucas” Lezcano, Matthew Villena and Nebil Youssef; Linwood E. Howe Elementary School: James Castillo, Loren Holmes, Adriana Ortega and Hanif Wright; El Marino Language School: Simon Johnson, Emily Katz, Elise Park and Pavan Tauh; El Rincon Elementary School: Anthony Merriweather, Melissa Ramirez, Kevin Sharpe and Robert Washington, II; Farragut Elementary School: Chloe Brown, David Jeong, Abigail Kim and Emily Shin; and La Ballona Elementary School: Mouhamad Alrayes, Hajar Darwish, Tomo Mendoza and Sergio Muñoz.

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