Literacy provides a gateway to success. It’s a vital part of modern society, not to mention a prerequisite for most jobs. Yet current results from the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) aren’t promising. The failure rate—nearly twenty percent—is something of a provincial tragedy. Moreover, few organizations exist to improve weak literacy skills in young people. However, one club is stepping up to take action.

Sp.LIT organizes spelling bees to promote youth literacy. Pictured: the 2010 MGCI bee.

Garneau’s Spelling Bee Literacy initiative (Sp.LIT, for short) aims to promote literacy awareness by encouraging high school students to participate in spelling bees. Sp.LIT has organized two spelling bees in Marc Garneau so far, with the next one scheduled to take place February 2013. Sp.LIT has also organized the first annual Multi-High School Spelling Bee Championship in the TDSB last year, with 20 finalists across 7 high schools participating. A Garneau student, Christian Muller, took home the title of Multi-High Champion.

Sp.LIT plans on expanding its multi-high bee this year, aiming to promote the importance of literacy in the real world. “I really do think that literacy is the key to success,” said Yang Chen, founder and president of Sp.LIT. “Everyone really needs to be aware that literacy is very important and that there are students out there struggling.” Sp.LIT also promotes the spelling bee as a source of competitive fun. Spelling bees have it all: anxiety, drama, and difficult words. “Sp.LIT is about literacy, but spelling bees really give words a chance to shine,” said MJ Chen, co-creator of the multi-high word list. “When spellers get to the third or fourth round, they get a taste of just how malicious the English language can be.” Audience members love the thrill factor. “I was surprised by how engaged everyone was”, said Yang Chen. “They were trying to spell the words themselves, they cheered on the spellers, they were just so excited.”

Meanwhile, the Sp.LIT hive is buzzing with activity. Posters, announcements, and a Facebook page—these busy bees are getting a head start on the 2013 second annual Multi-High School Spelling Bee Championship. In addition to the multi-high bee, Sp.LIT also runs a national essay contest to further promote literacy awareness. There is still much to be done, however, and Sp.LIT offers a variety of volunteer and leadership roles for students. You can find their website here. Interested in competing? Prospective spellers can register online here.