Year in Review: Cherry Hill speller shines on national stage

Check out what the top five stories in the Cherry Hill Sun from the month of April were in 2016.

Cherry Hill was represented on the national stage in 2016 at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

For Shruthika Padhy, then a fifth grade student at Bret Harte Elementary School, qualifying for the national spelling bee was something she had been working toward for many years. In the years leading up to 2016, Shruthika had competed in and won numerous local, regional and national spelling bees. In the year prior to the Scripps spelling bee, Shruthika was the Grand Champion at a competition called Mastispell, a junior spelling bee for students grade four and under featuring more than 1,000 competitors.

“I love competing in spelling bees because I just love learning all the new words,” Shruthika said.

Shruthika qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the held of her parents, school and local businesses. Camden County does not have a regional-sponsored qualifying competition for the spelling bee. However, this year Scripps allowed Bret Harte Elementary to send its school champion. Shruthika won and was allowed to go to Washington D.C.

Since Shruthika didn’t have a sponsor like most competitors, her family had to find a way to pay for the $3,450 entry fee. A local nonprofit, the National Indo Cooperative Enterprises, a marketing company, Metasense Inc. and tutoring companies C2Education, Kumon and Mathnasium, all donated money to pay for about half of the fee. Shruthika’s parents, Uma Padhy and Sujata Sabat, paid the remainder.

With the fee paid, Shruthika spent much of the month of April preparing for the spelling bee. She took some time away from practice to speak with the Cherry Hill Sun about the upcoming competition and how she was preparing.

Shruthika talked how going through a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the official dictionary of the spelling bee, and tackling some of the tough words.

“I highlight words in there and study them,” Shruthika said. “I also use flash cards.”

Shruthika also got lots of helps from her parents and teaches, making sure to practice at least a couple hours a day.

Cherry Hill residents supported Shruthika every step of the way and were thrilled to see her compete on the national stage. Her feature story was the Cherry Hill Sun’s most shared article on social media during the first half of 2016.

At the spelling bee, Shruthika outlasted much of the competition. She scored high enough in the preliminaries to reach the final day of competition. She misspelled the word “tyee” in the fourth round of the final day, finishing tied for 22nd place.

Other top stories from the month of April:

April 13 — Barclay Farmstead’s savior, first director to be honored

April marked the return of a former Cherry Hill resident who played a huge role in preserving Barclay Farmstead more than 40 years ago. Bonnie Cocchiaraley, 92, was honored for her role in preserving the farmstead as a historical site. Friends of Barclay Farmstead gave Cocchiaraley a plaque during a special luncheon in April.

In 1974, then Cherry Hill mayor John Holden tasked Cocchiaraley with coming up with something unique for Cherry Hill to celebrate the American Bicentennial. At the same time, Helen Barclay, owner of what is now the farmstead property, was looking to sell the property, but did not want to sell to developers who would tear the historic farmhouse down. Cocchiaraley came up with an idea of turning the farmstead into a museum.

Cocchiaraley help facilitate a transaction where Cherry Hill Township purchase the property from Barclay for $325,000. Cocchiaraley was then named the museum’s director.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to hire somebody,’” Cocchiaraley recalls. “I had ideas but I had never developed or worked in a museum. (Mayor Holden) looked at me and said, “Bonnie, how can we hire somebody to interpret what you have in mind. No one’s better to do it than you.’”

Cocchiaraley was the museum’s director for 17 years before retiring. She now resides in Florida, but still visits family in New Jersey regularly.

April 13 — National History Day group uses performance to tell story of Jewish exodus from Iraq

For a group of middle school students from Rosa International Middle School competing in a National History Day competition, telling a story verbally wouldn’t be enough.

Eighth grader students Naomi Abrams, Isabel Andino, Aditi Doiphode, Pallavi Goculdas and Jessica Lam completed an NHD project entitled “Hidden From History: The Forgotten Exodus of Iraqi Jews.” The project is the story of how thousands of Jews were forced to leave Iraq in the 1940s and 1950s.

Instead of telling the story through a formal presentation, the students wrote a play, telling the story as if one were experiencing the events themselves.

Abrams said her grandmother had lived in Iraq and was able to give plenty of first-hand accounts of what took place at the time.

“(My family) finally let me in and let me know all this information,” Abrams said. “It was really amazing.”

Teacher Christy Marrella encouraged her students to do a for performance, feeling it was the best way for them to portray the story.

“Here’s this chance to tell a story and set forth a legacy,” Marrella said. “If you’re going to tell a story and you want it to live forward, the most appropriate way and perhaps the most emotional would be to do a performance.”

The group’s presentation was strong enough to advance them to the state level of the competition in the spring of 2016.

April 20 — Families fighting for their chickens

In mid-March, resident Brad Bricker created a Facebook group called “Cherry Hill Chickens.” The group was formed shortly after Bricker and his family discovered the chickens they keep at their home were not permitted on residential properties in the township.

Shortly thereafter, resident Angela Hulfish, a member of Cherry Hill Chickens, said she received a warning from a township zoning officer after it was discovered she had chickens on her property.

“We’ve owned our chickens for just over a year,” Hulfish said. “Before we got them, we did a lot of research on ordinances and zoning. We were unable to find an ordinance that stated Cherry Hill didn’t permit chickens.”

At the April 11 township council meeting, members of the group appealed to have council adopt an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens in their backyards. Gwenne Baile, founder of a group named Camden County Chickens, informed Cahn and council a number of South Jersey towns had crafted ordinances in recent years to permit backyard chickens.

“The backyard chicken movement has been in existence for probably 10 to 12 years all across the country,” Baile said.

Members of council and the group exchanged questions during the caucus portion of the meeting. However, no ordinance appeared on a council agenda in 2016.

April 27 — Competitors get ready to take stage for Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars

Ahead of the Cherry Hill Education Foundation’s 2016 Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars competition, the Cherry Hill Sun spoke with a number of dancers as they made final preparations for the show.

This year’s competition included some returning dancers and some, like long-time Cherry Hill resident Jon Cohen, who were dancing for the first time.

I had an idea of what it was going to be,” Cohen said in April. “But I think it was more difficult in that I haven’t danced in a number of years.

Cohen, a member of the CHEF board, said he wanted to get more involved in the schools and felt participating in Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars was a good way to do so.

The Sun also spoke with Melissa Benenfeld. She and her partner, Anthony Pascale, created a new event, the Garden State Park 5K Run and Walk, to raise money for Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars. The run took place in April.

“It’s an incredible idea as a fundraiser,” Benenfeld said. “It’s a fun event that draws people.”