Youths who live in city-owned public housing developments will compete this weekend in the final round of the third annual spelling bee sponsored by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles.
Nine of the approximately 60 remaining contestants hail from the San Fernando Gardens housing development in Pacoima. The bee is the brainchild of Mario Matute, senior case manager at San Fernando Gardens. Matute said he came up with the idea three years ago while helping tutor children at the development's community service center.
"I noticed a lot of kids were having trouble spelling," Matute said, "and I said, 'Why don't we put together a contest to inspire kids to work on that, to try to do something positive to motivate them?' "
Managers at Panorama Mall in Panorama City agreed to host a citywide competition, and World Book Educational Products provided contest guidelines and word lists. Local merchants provided prizes and gift certificates.
"The first year, we had maybe 30 contestants," Matute said. "The next year, we had 60, and this year, we think we'll have even more."
Preliminary rounds in the contest were held Friday for three age divisions: first and second grades; third and fourth grades, and fifth and sixth grades.
"The kids get so excited about it, and they start getting their parents involved, studying, and I see a great deal of interest," Matute said, adding that he hopes to develop the spelling bee into a statewide competition open to children at all public housing developments.
The final will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Panorama Mall, 8401 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City.