Four students from the Safe Achieve Academy, part of the Chicago Public Schools’ Options Network, made school history when they won the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL) Spelling Bee.

While the team initially took part in the spelling bee just for entertainment, they walked away with a historic win, in part due to encouragement to do their best and a little competitive spirit from Terrance Sirleaf, a behavioral specialist at Safe Achieve Academy.

“We had very little time to study for the event. We put in a lot of crunch-time hours. When we arrived, we were under the impression that with not a lot of study time, we were just participating to have fun, but I did let them know that I like to compete,” said Sirleaf.

The students spelled their way to the top, defeating participants from five other schools. Safe Achieve won the first round of the spelling bee with a score of 11 points and a one-point lead, upsetting the defending champions. The team also won its second round, 16-4. Despite an upset in one round, Safe Achieve won the overall competition with a total of 38 points.

“Being a football coach for over 15 years taught me how to seize the moment and take advantage of every opportunity,” said Sirleaf. “My slogan is ‘win the day’. I don’t worry about anything else, but did you give your best effort for the time you have in a day?”

Winning for Safe Achieve Academy didn’t end there. Two students, Keniyah Hill and Zion Bennet, placed first and third, respectively, in the 10 student single-elimination individual competition.

“I was very nervous in the beginning of the spelling bee,” said Hill. “I was determined after the first few rounds when I realized that I was still one of the last ones remaining. It came down to me and another student from a different school.”

Hill battled all the way until the last winning word, “plateau”.

“[The other student] got the word ‘plateau’ wrong. “When it was my turn, I had the chance to seal the victory by stealing the point for spelling the word correctly,” she said. “This is one of the first awards I have ever won by myself. I’m very proud of myself and thankful for my academic team and Mr. Sirleaf at Safe Achieve.”

For the Safe Achieve Academy students, the spelling bee competition was a great display of teamwork, sportsmanship and believing in yourself.

“We stayed focused and we dominated all rounds including the individual rounds against 10 other students, which we came out on top,” said Sirleaf. “This is the first-ever first place award we ever won at this campus in 10 years. I am so ecstatic that my students and I are a part of Safe Achieve History.”

Congratulations to the Safe Achieve Academy academic team!