In recent years, The Bodacious Bee has become so beloved, so popular, that folks sometimes forget that it started out as an actual spelling bee. Yes, locals still flaunt their lexicological D-E-X-T-E-R-I-T-Y before a live audience. But the annual fundraiser has become something more – an epic one-night festival, a joyful S-A-T-U-R-N-A-L-I-A.
“This is our main fundraiser,” says Nicky Piper, chairperson of the Bristol Warren Education Foundation. “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say it’s the biggest social event of the East Bay.”
Since the Bee started 10 years ago, the event has grown exponentially. Piper expects this year’s event, held on March 10 at the Roger Williams University Field House in Bristol, to sell out, with 450 attendees. Many of them will arrive in costume, observing this year’s “masquerade” theme. “There’s a prize for best costume, and there’s a prize for best entourage,” says Piper. There will be live music, appetizers by Hope & Main, a raffle, a live auction, and dinner by Palm’s Catering.
Behind the festivities is something more serious: the foundation, which helps fund 24 special and after-school programs across the district., including Rockwell School’s Nature Collaborative with the Audubon Society, Kickemuit Middle School’s Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement, and Mt. Hope High School’s Day of Shakespeare, when 250 students gather for classical theater workshops. In total, the foundation has provided more than $400,000 in grants to area projects, including $65,000 in the past year.
Video retrospectives, including interviews with beloved teachers, are screened at the Bee and elicit tears from the audience. Then there’s the spelling bee itself, which musters the audience enthusiasm of a celebrity boxing match. The 12 teams typically include three people each, either parents from the district or teachers.
Last year, a team made up of school committee members won first place. “They have some pressure on them this year,” Piper says.