Over two hundred students and family members recently enjoyed a tasty evening of food and words at the Dennis Township Super Starter Staff Cook Off and Spelling Bee.
Sponsored by the Dennis Township Education Association PRIDE Committee, Dennis Township Municipal Alliance Committee, and Dennis Township PTA, this annual event features some form of staff cooking competition followed by a student spelling competition.
In past years, the spelling has been preceded by chili, pasta and other edibles, but this year was all about appetizers.
With fifteen competitors producing amazing starters ranging from roast beef-wrapped peach salsa to taco dips to BLT salad bites, visitors had a tough time choosing their favorites. In addition to the starters, attendees enjoyed meatball sandwiches, chips and desserts provided by the DTEA co-presidents Betteann Kerr and Kathy Pittaluga and participating parents.
Winning the competition with her fruit salsa was speech therapist Kelli Turner, closely followed by Spanish teacher Carlos Covarrubias in second place with a bean and salsa combination and science teacher Kevin Poltorak in third place with horseradish meatballs.
Students and teacher advisors Ashlee Symanski and Lea Guarino from the New Jersey Future Educators Association staffed the Spelling Bee registration table and Student Government student volunteers helped media specialist Julie Factor run the Book Fair in the school library all evening.
Seventy-five students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade grappled for dominance in the Spelling Bee with Georgia Roache winning the Middle School competition and the honor of attending the Regional Spelling Bee. Hailey Jones won the Primary School division and Julianne Nagle took top honors for the Elementary School section.
Judges included Dennis Township School Board members Jen Hand and Mary Kate Garry and Dennis Township Committee member Don Tozer, as well as staff members Greta Liston, Ina Sharkey, Kasey Eykyn, Camille Berardis, and Kathy Pittaluga, and retired teacher Barb McKeefery.
As PRIDE Committee chair and one of the main organizers of the event, Turner is thrilled with the turnout. She explains that planning and running the event takes a great deal of time and effort by many staff volunteers as well as funding from the sponsors.
"Having a turnout like this makes it all worthwhile," she says. "Families come out and have fun together, children challenge themselves academically and visit the Book Fair, and we all have a good time."
Principal Jamie VanArtsdalen agrees with Turner that the evening is a valuable community event as well as an important school competition.
"As close knit as our community is, this is a special tradition that brings our students in with their families to sit down, share a meal and be in school for something fun," Van Artsdalen states. She hopes to expand opportunities for such events in the future and continue growing the relationship between the school and the Dennis Township community as a whole.