Local students compete in first Spanish spelling bee

Thursday , April 16, 2015 - 6:39 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN — Elementary and junior high school students from all over Utah competed in the state’s first Spanish Spelling Bee at Weber State University Tuesday afternoon and by the looks and sounds of it, it was the first of many. A fifth grader from Dixie Sun Elementary, Raul Martinez, won as best Spanish speller, but many walked away glad they participated.

Isabel Asensio, associate professor and adviser for Sigma Delta Pi, a National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society on WSU’s campus, said the group wanted to start a tradition on campus it could be known for and that others would recognize in a positive way. She has heard of other states that had done Spanish spelling bees and thought it would work at WSU.

“The hardest part was sending an invite to all the schools,” Asensio said. She wanted to make sure all dual language immersion schools in the state were included, which was a daunting task. The group decided the age range would be fourth through eighth grade and many dual immersion programs are new enough that they don’t have fourth graders yet. Asensio started contacting schools during the summer, getting commitments from them. She felt 10 was a good number and that’s how many she ended up with at the competition. Each school was invited to bring three competitors and they could choose how they decided on which three to bring. “I think most of the schools had some kind of spelling bee at their school but I also gave them the option to select their students since this was the first year,” Asensio said.

She provided word lists to the competing schools in the summer as well. “I wanted them to have the school year to work on their words,” she said.

Asensio, parents, teachers and participants were happy with how things turned out.

Estrella Beltran, a dual immersion teacher at Bonneville Elementary in Ogden, said the experience was great for her students.

“The students have been working so hard and their vocabulary just grew,” Beltran said. Fifteen of her students competed to go to the WSU spelling bee in a class spelling bee. “We took the top three ... Preston (Dixon) lasted the longest out of those,” Beltran said.

Dixon took fourth place in the WSU competition.

“We are so proud,” Beltran said of Dixon’s success.

Many of the competitors were native Spanish speakers, which was good competition for all the students, and she also liked that her younger students had the chance to compete against older junior high students. “It’s really impressive to think that Preston did so well against native Spanish speakers and older students,” she said.

Some students were quite disappointed when they were eliminated and some even shed tears. That disappointment was proven when Asensio read the post spelling bee surveys because that’s what the majority of students said they liked least about the bee — being eliminated. Asensio said there is a national Spanish spelling bee which is where she got the lists for the students to study from. “This could definitely be an annual event,” she said.

Dixon hopes so. “I definitely will try again next year and I hope I make it,” the fifth grader said. Dixon admitted that he was nervous to compete and that waiting for his turn seemed to take forever. “It took about an hour for people to spell five words,” he said with a laugh.

Asensio planned for the contest to last all day, but students were down to the finals before lunch, so the bee ended early. “I wanted to be prepared if they knew their words really well, but I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said.

Dixon’s mom, Valerie Dixon, said this spelling bee was just another great experience that her son has had since being in the dual immersion program at his school.

“He is very fluent and I am just amazed at what he can do,” Valerie said.

She loved watching the competition on Wednesday and said it proves that dual immersion programs are finding success in the state. She teaches third grade at Bonneville Elementary, where her son attends, and has enjoyed watching the success of the dual immersion program.

“These are skills they will be able to use for their whole lives,” Valerie said.

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