Nicholas McCracken wins Apache Junction USD annual spelling bee

From left are Nicholas McCracken, first place; Penelope Mutanga, second place; Brennen Medley, third place; and Reygan Fraser, fourth place at the Apache Junction Unified School District annual spelling bee.

What does the word “ventilate” mean? To Nicholas McCracken, a fifth grader from Desert Vista Elementary School, “ventilate” spelled victory at the Apache Junction Unified School District Spelling Bee on Wednesday, Jan. 24, in the Performing Arts Center, 2525 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction.

Nicholas competed with fellow students from DVES, as well as Four Peaks and Peralta Trail elementary schools and Cactus Canyon Junior High School and walked off the stage with the first-place trophy. Penelope Mutanga, a sixth grader from FPES, came in second; Brennen Medley, a sixth-grader from PTES and Reygan Fraser, a fourth-grader, also from PTES, placed third and fourth.

“Spelling bees are more than a fun way for students to increase their vocabulary,” Robyn Gonzales, program coordinator, said. “This type of competition can help a child develop a wide range of cognitive and life skills including the ability to perform under pressure, enhance their public speaking abilities, accept their mistakes, as well as develop an appreciation for words and their meaning.”

Prior to the district spelling bee, the top five spellers and one alternate from each school competed at the school site. The competitors consisted of:

Desert Vista

Conor Wirries, Payton Elizondo, Simote Teumohenga, Nicholas McCracken, Hailey Butel and alternate Anna Brownlee.

Four Peaks

Penelope Mutanga, Timmy Wright, Jimmy Alamillo, James Rispoli, Gavin Crary and alternate Xavier Mix.

Peralta Trail

Luke Coburn, Alexander Jacobs, Brennen Medley, Reygan Fraser, Leena Cano and alternate Donald Brigham.


Cactus Canyon Jr. High

Jacob Glazener, Diana Huerta, Damon Baum, Hayden Pride, Allivia McAdam and alternate Olivia Scalmato.

Nicholas, Penelope and Brennen have advanced to the county spelling bee in Casa Grande on Feb. 16. Reygan is an alternate.

About AJUSD:

The Apache Junction Unified School District serves more than 3,600 students in a 217-square mile area that includes the city of Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Peralta Trail, Queen Valley and the unincorporated areas of the Superstition Mountain foothills. Formed in 1952, the K-12 district provides a quality education to its students and is proud of the variety of educational programs offered. AJUSD has a reputation for innovative approaches to education. The guiding philosophy of the school district is to put all students in the best position to succeed academically, emotionally and physically. Committed to low teacher/student ratios and individualized instruction, the focus of AJUSD is centered on a “college readiness for all” curriculum for every student in every grade. For more information call 480-982-1110, or visit or

Editor’s note: Sally Marks is the public information officer for the Apache Junction Unified School District.





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