Members of Kathleen Clark’s sixth grade ELA class took home second place in the most recent Word Masters Challenge national competition.

Bluffton schools are bursting at the seams with good news to share about the achievements of their students. It has been a winning start to 2022 for kids all across town. Here is just a sampling of the accolades.

Bobcats score big wins at DECA states: Bluffton High School had the only first place winners in Beaufort County at the 2022 South Carolina DECA competition. The organization prepares future entrepreneurs and executives for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

Competitors had to take a test in their specialty area then had 10 minutes to create and present a solution to a particular problem to judges.

Ryan Andrews won first place in Entrepreneurship, while Andrea Boyd took home first in Principles of Finance, and Harrison Dill took home the win in the Sports and Entertainment Marketing Series.

Tilden Dougherty took home a second place in Principles of Hospitality and Tourism and Alexandra Vira won third place in Principles of Marketing. Vira was also inducted as a state officer for 2022-23 as the vice president of marketing.

All first through third place finishers move on to the DECA International Competition to be held later this spring in Atlanta.

Also finishing strong for Bluffton were Rosy Almazon with a fourth-place finish in the Human Resources Management Series and Gianna Wilson with the fourth-place finish in the Sports and Entertainment Management Series.

Big area winners in Word Masters: We give big shoutouts to Bluffton and Hilton Head Island students who excelled in the latest Word Masters Challenge. The Challenge is a national competition for third through eighth grade that encourages growth in vocabulary and verbal reasoning through learning and usage of new words. More than 125,000 students from across the U.S. participated in the latest Challenge.

The third graders at Okatie Elementary took home a second-place national finish, just 10 points behind the winners at Chestnutwood Elementary in Havertown, Pa. There were four Okatie students with perfect scores in the challenge – Adrienne Brown, Graham Jacob, Eva Magee and Myra Onofrio. The students were coached by third grade gifted and talented ELA teacher Claudia Dale.

Kat Clark’s sixth grade ELA class at Bluffton Middle School scored a national second place as well, just four points behind Peterson Middle School from Sunnyvale, Calif. Their 196 total was the eighth-best overall score of any grade division.

The team included Vyctoria Gonzalez, Jackson Gullett, Grayson Jacob, Norah Laizer, Chelsea Salas and Finlay Wrobel. Each achieved a perfect score on their tests, six of just 64 sixth graders to achieve a perfect 20 nationwide.

Other six graders that excelled include Veronica Gordillo, Jordan Heaton, Ryan Moisaide, Harmony Phillips and Brennen Thacker.

The fifth graders at Hilton Head Island Elementary took home a seventh-place finish, while the fourth graders at Red Cedar Elementary took home a ninth-place finish.

The Red Cedar team included Dalton Dubose and Isabella Houzar. Red Cedar fifth graders Jackson McLin and Lucas Mikhael also scored well individually in the competition. The Red Cedar students were coached by teachers Virginia Pratt and Roni Shaner.

Others to score strong for HHIES include third grader Amelia Dye, fourth grader Sophie O’Riley and fifth graders Reese Shaughnessy, Aubrey Turley and Joshua Wahl.

There were 15 Bluffton and Hilton Head Island students among the 210 students across six grades nationwide to achieve perfect scores on the Challenge.

Darlyn Munivez from Hilton Head Elementary scored the feat among third graders.

Robert Saleeby from Okatie Elementary was one of the 33 fourth graders nationwide to nab a perfect score. Fellow fourth grader Sofia Elizabeth Jackson also scored well, both coached by fourth grade ELA teacher Chris Lancaster.

Fifth graders Casey Chafik, Vince Mathison and Kylie Moberly recorded perfect scores for Hilton Head Island Elementary.

May River student wins welding scholarship: Beaufort County schools sent 16 students from Battery Creek, Goose Creek and May River High School to the Arclabs Welding Competition in Charleston on March 18. And a very skilled welder took home a big prize for the Sharks.

Junior Gabriel Juarez took home a first place prize in the competition and won a $17,900 scholarship to Arclabs Welding School, one of the top hands-on learning schools in the country.

Juarez is a two-time Class 4A individual state champion wrestler for the Sharks and a student in Brad Childress’ welding class as part of the school’s Career and Technical Education program.

The program also offers courses in automotive technology, engineering and design and clinical nursing.

Red Cedar participates in Reading March Madness: The students at Red Cedar Elementary recently competed as part of an international Reading March Madness program. The event exposes students to newly published books, with students voting on their favorites in head-to-head matchups until a winner is decided among picture books for kindergarten through second grade and young adult novels for third through fifth graders.

“The kids get excited because they’re reading books that they have never seen before,” said fourth-grade teacher Virginia Pratt. “Many of these books are series so it gets them saying, ‘Hey, I think I want to read the next book.’”

The school’s Once Upon a Book Club for younger students selected seven of the books for the showdown. The club lets kids through second grade select books each Friday to take home in a special backpack filled with activities centered around the book.

Does your school have an outstanding achievement you’d like to share? Email Tim Wood at

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.