This past Wednesday, over 100 people crowded the gymnasium on the top floor of St. Mary’s Recreation Center for the sixth annual Citywide Spelling Bee hosted by NYC Parks.
Students, ages 6-13, from all five boroughs competed for the top prizes in their respective age categories.
The spelling bee has created a way to get students to read outside of school, according to Deborah Edwards, the Youth Programs Coordinator for the Bronx. For Edwards, who has worked for the Parks Department for twenty-five years, the competition is one of her many passion projects.
“It’s just what I do,” said Edwards. “Working with the kids and my [Parks] staff in the Bronx is an amazing thing.”
Her development coordinator, Jules Webster, gathers all the students for a group photo. Each of them holds a medal around their necks – the ones who achieved the top spot in their age group also holds a trophy in their hands.
“It’s so rewarding to see the joy on their faces,” said Webster, who grew up going to recreation centers as a child. “This can be nerve-wracking for them so we want to reward them for their hard work.”
St. Mary’s Recreation Center, located at 450 St. Ann’s Ave has hosted the spelling bee since its inception and has served as the setting for many other events in the community. It became NYC Park’s first recreation center after its opening in 1951.
The center has a long history of bringing the community together – during the 1970s, hustle parties were hosted in St. Mary’s as a way to garner peace between rivalry gangs which became an integral part of cutting down street violence. It has long been a meeting ground for the community to come together, which has become a luxury for the Bronx.
“You know how we have food deserts?” asked Karen I. Pedrosa, a Bronx native and the Deputy Chief of Recreation in the borough. “The Bronx has recreation deserts.”
St. Mary’s is only one of six recreation centers in the Bronx, soon to be eight after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of two new centers in Soundview and East Tremont in his latest State of the City address earlier this month. It is a much-needed addition according to Pedrosa, adding that recreation centers are crucial to the people of the Bronx.
“There’s something special about the Bronx,” said Pedrosa. “The people here are resilient. It’s important that we provide these kinds of services to them.”