The championship word was “degenerative” that secured Nina McManus as the 2013 Philadelphia regional spelling bee winner.
“My heart was pumping really fast,” Nina told the Tribune.
As a science club member and avid reader, Nina out spelled 62 other competitors who she said she enjoyed meeting.
“All the kids are really nice,” Nina said. “You talk to the other kids while you’re on stage and before you go on the stage.”
Paula McManus, Nina’s mom, held back tears after her daughter was announced as champion.
“She’s worked her tail off,” Paula said. “She just wanted this so bad. She truly worked hard to get it. She studied hard just as she did last year, but I think maybe she was a seventh-grader, it was her first time being here. This time as an eighth-grader maybe she was a little more confident in herself.”
Nina’s family and even her fifth-grade, seventh-grade and eighth-grade teachers came to support.
Last year, Nina was the second runner up. Her preparation consisted of studying two hours a night and practicing definitions, word origins and spellings of the packet of words provided on the national spelling bee website.
Nina now goes on to compete in May at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
“I just think it’s going to be really hard,” Nina said.
The word “mossery” tripped up second-place finisher, Amir S. Lewis. The eighth-grader of General Louis Wagner Middle School has participated in the bee before. In 2012, he reached fourth-place.
“Last year, I didn’t take it as serious as I did this year and I didn’t study and I waited to the last minute,” Lewis said. The student government, football, basketball, swimming and student Philly Run team member aspires to be an architect. Learning from his first experience, Lewis changed his approach to prepare for this year’s competition.
“I was real confident,” Lewis said. “Nobody had to push me to study. And when I came here, I just had fun. That’s the main thing.”
In Round 17 of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade Citywide Competition, Liam Hart from George McCall Elementary School took third place. And in Round 9, Sade Foxx from Stephen Decatur Elementary School finished fourth.
Earlier in the day, fifth-grader and all “A” student, Nadja Scipio from John Moffet Elementary School, won the Fifth-Grade Spelldown.
This is the 19th annual Philadelphia Tribune/Scripps Regional Spelling Bee. The Tribune receives students from public, private, charter, parochial, virtual and home schools to participate in both the Fifth-Grade Spelldown and Citywide Competition.
“Just keep, keep, keep studying,” Nina advised to younger spellers. “If you keep on studying then you’ll know everything.”
The 2013 Philadelphia Tribune/Scripps Regional Spelling Bee was sponsored by The Philadelphia Tribune, AmeriHealth Mercy Family Companies and Wells Fargo. Merriam Webster was the prize donor. Winners of this event will move on to the national competition in Washington D.C.
As soon as the house lights flash on and Michael Jackson's “They don't care about us” begins to play, Indiya Green, 16, leads the younger actors of FreshVisions Youth Theatre Company in warm up stretches.
Like most of the children of FreshVisions, Green is a veteran of the company and will be starring as Ella Baker in the production of “Marching to Freedomland.” The production delves into the heroes and events of the Civil Rights Movement and how the 50s and 60s shook America.
Originally known as the Mitchell-Robinson Youth Theatre, FreshVisions has been established for more than 20 years. With no audition requirements and year-round productions, youth participants between the age of 5 and 17 have acting opportunities in lower Germantown.
“Acting is a fun experience,” Green said. “It's something I've always wanted to do. FreshVisions is a safe place and you're able to make friends.”
Written and directed by founder and executive artistic director, Bruce Robinson, this will be the play’s 15th production. To note, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington speech.
“You can never do a show like this enough that tells about the history of the Civil Rights Movement,” Robinson said. “This movement not changed this country, but the whole world. I mean think about how life was before the movement before Emmett Till, before Rosa Parks, [and] before the Birmingham March.”
Also starring in the play is Marc Johnson Jr. as Martin Luther King Jr., Amataadi Latham, Tahmir Thompson, Lawana Lamone and Sadiq Afif. There will be a special appearance by Carol E. Lumford.
Percussion will be done by Thomas Lowery and choreography by Tanya Scott and Carmen Butler.
And, even though these are young actors, Robinson said expectations are set high.
“What makes FreshVisions special is that it is a theater company that has a strong social purpose to empower, for self esteem, providing a positive environment," Robinson said.
“But we have a strong artistic standard, too. We have people come see these kids that aren't friends and family. Two-third of our audience are just audience who have no real connection to the kids. But they know that they are going to see a good show.”
Also performing are main company members Kira Brown-Gray, Maia McCoy, Amanti Thompson and Ayanna Jones, who play the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. in 1963.
Using a stern directing and dramatic acting style, Robinson helps the young cast break down various scenes during rehearsal.
"Mr. Robinson does not play games with us," Green said. "He is on point with everything. He wants you to do your best. Besides your health and safety, everything else is fair game. You have to be on top of your work.
"But he's a great guy," Green added. "Mr. Robinson knows how to work with you. If you have any kind of problems, even outside of the theater, at school, he will be there for you."
Growing up in the 1960s in North Philadelphia, Robinson said life was tough especially during the gang era.
From a bleak environment of little motivation, he looked to his mother, stepfather and grandparents for support.
"It was very hard for [me] to find things of beauty in [my] surroundings." Robinson said. "I was lucky to have people in my home life that gave me a foundation."
And that foundation has led him to a 35-year career on the stage as a actor, director, writer and teacher of theater arts.
Robinson has also worked at venues such as: The Ritz Theatre, The Prince Music Theatre, Tova, Eastern University Theatre, The Philadelphia Theatre Caravan, The Philadelphia Drama Ensemble, and Theatre Center of Philadelphia.
He wrote "Marching to Freedomland" in 1998, has written over 24 others and has received various recognition for his productions.
Opening night was Feb. 22. The production is scheduled to run nine performances during three weekends: Fridays, March 1 and March 8; Saturdays, Feb. 23, March 2 and March 9; Sundays, Feb 24, March 3 and March 10.
The Germantown Theatre Centre is located at 4821 Germantown Ave. For more information call (267) 226-7135 or (215) 843-5486.
Her journey began more than two decades ago and 6,000 miles away - in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she left friends and family - all in an effort to become an American citizen.
“I feel calm and quiet,” Colette Mutongo told the Tribune when the big day arrived. “I didn’t expect it to be full like this.”
More than 25 countries were represented at the United States Citizenship Immigration Services naturalization ceremony Jan. 17 in the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse. Judge Joel H. Slomsky presided.
“This is a great day in the history of the United States courthouse here in Philadelphia,” Slomsky said. “It’s the day when many of you are becoming citizens of the United States and joining our family of citizens.”
Mutongo’s eldest daughter traveled from Virginia to witness this event.
“Today is a special day for my mother because she is finally being oathed as an American citizen,” Murine Lusakweno said. “It’s an honor, considering the fact that she’s been here for at least 21 years without her citizenship, and now finally getting it. It opens up many more doors to her.”
In 1992, Mutongo and her former husband came to New York. He was a student at Union Theological Seminary of New York. He did not want her to get a degree, so she stayed home. However, she did learn English at a local church.
“When I first came, I was not happy,” Mutongo admitted. “When we came to the school, we had to walk in Manhattan. I see the homeless men and they smell of pee. The smell was so bad I said, ‘I’m not staying. I have to go back home.’ Back home, at the time, was very nice. Everything was okay. Finally, I said, ‘It’s like my home now.’”
Soon after her husband graduated, the couple visited the Valley Forge area and decided to raise a family there. Initially, they stayed in King of Prussia with a man named Ivan George—a clergyman at Grace Baptist Church of Germantown. For 16 months, George and his wife took the couple in and helped them with their first child, Murine.
“When he finished school, and after his vista expired, we had a hard time to get another vista,” Mutongo recalled. “We applied, applied, applied. We went to one lawyer and we give money--$2,000 to start to do the process for us to get the green card, then the lawyer just run away with the money and was gone. Ever since that day, we never found him.”
Fifteen years and three children later, the couple started the process again to get their green cards with a different immigration lawyer. They were then able to move to Philadelphia and buy a house.
Mutongo has been a member of Grace Baptist Church for 20 years. She praised the members for their support.
“The church has become like a family to me,” she said. “I don’t have nobody here, but the church family became like my family. They struggled with me to get my green card. They come together. They collected money. They [found] a lawyer. The church [even tries] to learn my language.”
Mutongo speaks five languages; Lingala (Congo), French, Yaka (Congo), English, the Congo Language and Swahili.
“[The church] has been good since I grew up here,” Denise Lusakweno said. “They just show support and love. I’m used to everyone here. I considered them my family. It’s like a second family.”
“But, we didn’t stay with their father,” Mutongo said. “We finally got a divorce because when we got the green card, we needed work. We needed a job. I had to work always, day and night. Sometimes, I come home and go right back out. I was working 120 hours a week. He didn’t want to work. He stayed home.”
She plans to go to school to become a registered nurse and travel back to the Democratic Republic of Congo to see the family she left behind.
“Oh yeah, I want to go back one day,” Mutongo said. “I want to see my family. My kids never been nowhere. They never known my family where I came from. I really want to. If God gives me some money to take these kids, they have to go see where I come from.”
For now, Mutongo can take pride in one big goal accomplished. She’s an American citizen.
The scouts straightened their lines. The troop’s banner was raised. And after the American and Pennsylvania state flag were secured in their harnesses, Scoutmaster Brian Wallace shouted the commands.
“Eyes straight. Eyes right. Salute,” Wallace said during the troop’s final rehearsal for President Obama’s second inaugural parade on Monday.
Boy Scout Troop 358 of Grace Baptist Church of Germantown participated in the inaugural parade in 2009. And like before, they applied and were selected to be the only Boy Scout troop in America to march.
“The application came out, and we jumped on it immediately,” chairman Charles Whiting said. “The last time, the atmosphere down there was electric. We drove past the mall as [the president] was being sworn in so that we could get into position. It was wonderful. It was cold, but it was wonderful.”
The troop is set to leave Philadelphia at 4 a.m. on Monday.
After several loops around the basement of the church, the scouts lined up to receive the red windbreaker jackets they will wear during the parade.
Nathaniel Ouzts, 16, has been involved with Troop 358 for seven years. Currently, Ouztis is a Life Scout — which is one badge away from the highest rank of Eagle Scout. He volunteers at Rep. Dwight Evans’ office. After high school, he wants to study civil engineering.
“This troop helps me become a better person,” Ouzts said. “My favorite thing is the other scouts of this troop. They make trips and meetings fun.
Along with the experiences, Whiting said that the leadership of the troop has accounted for the six decades of success.
“The adults have been involved,” Whiting said. “We’ve only had four scoutmasters in 60 years, so that speaks volumes.”
Aaron Gooding, the previous scoutmaster for the troop, attended the last practice, too. His two sons, Aaron J. Gooding Jr. and Matthew R. Gooding, are Eagle Scouts of Troop 358. Aaron traveled with the troop for the last parade.
“It’s an honor, and also at the same time it’s very humbling,” Aaron said. “These boys do a whole lot and the leaders of this troop do a whole lot. So to get an opportunity to be a part of history again, I think it’s good that there’s that payoff.”
Stephanie Logan, mother of Christopher J. Logan, who was the latest Eagle Scout inductee, said she believes the leadership has kept the troop intact for the past six decades.
“The leadership of the troop, I believe, is paramount because they raised their sons in a pack and troop and they remain leaders. We believe that we are the oldest, African-American troop in the nation — so that in itself if honorable.”
On Feb. 2, the troop will celebrate their 60th anniversary at Blair Mill Inn.
What started off as a well organized meeting with an agenda, shortly turned into an emotionally driven forum in which community members advocating for students’ educational needs and the desire to keep their neighborhood schools open, sounded off in an outcry fueled by frustration and disappointment Saturday Dec. 15 at South Philadelphia High School.
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite opened the meeting with remarks on how difficult the recommendation process has been. Cynthia Dorsey, Chief Inspector, talked briefly to assure parents of district wide safety — mentioning the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. Danielle Floyd, interim SVP Capital Programs/Deputy for Strategic Initiatives, announced how the process of selecting the school closures began at 150 turning into 50 and ultimately dropping to 37. Paul Kihn, deputy superintendent said that these meetings would help the committee make the appropriate recommendations by March 2013.
Testimonies were heard from many students including special education children having to travel outside their neighborhoods to attend schools. The senior class president of University City High School who has four Advanced Placement courses said he doesn’t care about the school’s poor heating — he said he just wants to learn. Parents from North Philadelphia schools also questioned the cuts made to their African American neighborhoods. And community members voicing their concerns of the lack of educational options in the Moyamensing neighborhood were heard at the meeting Saturday.
Tracey Carter has an autistic son in the 12th-grade at Edward W. Bok Technical High School. According to Carter, the Facilities Master Plan and the responses from Hite and other officials is not adequate. She expressed that students like her son need stability, emotional support, and staff and not spend a year transitioning into school climates outside of their current school zones.
“Special ed is not cookie cutter,” Carter said. “You can’t pick it up from one building and take it to another building and think it works. There’s a lot more involved than that. I’m not saying that we absolutely have to stay in Bok, but we have to ensure that the programming and the way it’s administered works.”
Student services chief Karen Lynch provided a response to several questions about special education services for students in lei of the recommendations.
“I’ve listened to this morning’s conversation and I recognize in Philadelphia community is extremely important,” Lynch said. “While I’ve been listening and learning this morning there’s an answer to a question that I still don’t know. If I lived in a house that had 25 rooms and I was only able to fill three of those rooms with children. And if I had to pay for the water, the heat and the roof repairs—if I had to do all of that—the question becomes how do I take care of all of that overhead to pay for that building when it takes money away form my children that I’m trying to educate?”
Tiffany Gilbert, a 2000 graduate of South Philadelphia High School, agrees with Lynch and said community members have to think logical instead of emotional.
“I feel that a lot of the community is in a knee jerk reaction,” Gilbert said. “Philadelphia is a city of communities. When something is taken away from the communities of course people are going to react. I feel that the citizens need to move past emotions and think of what’s going to benefit the children. With the children of University City, that’s great that they’re doing that well, and every student in the district should be doing just as well as they are. We need to move away from emotion and think more critically as far as how we’re going to help these children.”
“I’ve filled a page of recommendations that I’ve heard this morning,” Hite said. “As I stated before, this is not easy work. This is actually not why individuals come into this role as superintendent. Closing schools, I don’t care where they are, are difficult things to do. I want you to stay tuned because we may change this meeting schedule just to provide for different types of meetings in all of the communities. I heard a couple of things this morning that are important. Everybody wants to hear answers to the questions. We need to be thinking about this and thinking about this opportunity as a school by school type of approach as opposed to these meetings that are just coming out with large groups of people.”
The next three community meetings are scheduled for Monday, Dec. 17 at Sayre High School, 58th and Walnut streets; 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18 at Edison High School, 151 W. Luzerne St. and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at Martin Luther King High School, 6100 Stenton Ave.