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District Hosts First Spanish Spelling Bee

Students from C.C. Cooke, Irving and Santa Fe Elementary Schools competed Tuesday in Cleburne ISD’s inaugural Spanish Spelling Bee, with three finalists now advancing to the regional contest.

Santa Fe third grader Fernando Castañeda was proclaimed the first place finalist in the contest, taking place in the CISD Central Offices, correctly spelling the word “nematelminto” missed by second place finalist, Irving third grader Richard Lopez.  Castañeda, who was the winner of his campus contest, clinched the win with the successful spelling of “muchedumbre.”

Luis Torres, a third grader at Santa Fe, finished third and will also be advancing to the Education Service Center Region XI Spanish Spelling Bee taking place in February.

Rounding out the list of contestants at the District spelling challenge were Cooke finalists Ronald Santiago, Genesis Zúñiga and Joanne Huerta; Santiago Cruz and Gael Garcia from Irving and Emily Aboytes from Santa Fe. All the competitors began their journey in winning their classroom contests, then placing in the top three at their campus tournaments.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be able to host the Spanish Spelling Bee in Cleburne ISD,” Christy Burton, director of World Languages said. “The National Spelling Bee has been available in other states since the late 1990s. In recent years, Region XI began to host a Spanish Bee for students in north Texas. This is yet another opportunity for our emergent bilingual students to showcase their skills by participating in this competition. Many of the participants have told me they have or plan to participate in the English bee when it is conducted on their campus. These students amaze me daily with their academic success and talents.  As we say in Spanish, ‘Si se puede!’ which means ‘Yes, you can.’”

The Spanish Spelling Bee is conducted much like its English counterpart. In the Spanish competition, guidelines give a student the option of using a small handheld whiteboard to write down the word once it has been given to them by the pronouncer. The only purpose of this is to help the contestant visualize the word before spelling it orally.

A major difference between the two competitions is the Spanish Spelling Bee requires contestants to include the special marks that are often included in the word they are spelling, such as accents and dieresis marks. They must also clarify if a letter should be capitalized.

“It was so exciting to see our stage filled with classroom champions competing for the opportunity to represent Santa Fe at the District contest,” Principal Sabina Landeros said. “It is great to provide an academic contest for students in our bilingual program. This gives us an opportunity to honor students for their hard work in their native language, as they devote that same level of effort in mastering a second language.”

Castañeda, who experienced a spelling battle with Torres for the first and second place spots in the Santa Fe competition, was happy to come away with his second championship—and to see success for his friend as well.

“I was shaking—and my hands are still sweaty,” he said. “But this was easier than I thought. I had worked very hard to be ready, and I thought there was a good chance I could win.”

“At our school spelling bee, when it got down to Luis and me, it got harder,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what some of the words they gave us meant—I really had to focus. I practiced a lot, but I felt the older kids would probably be the winners, so I was surprised when it was Luis and me who ended up being the last two spelling. He is my friend, so having him as a finalist going to the District contest made it special. I’m glad he will be going to the next contest.”

Torres said he was nervous, but also confident, as a first-time Spanish Spelling Bee competitor.

“I’m happy—and still a little nervous,” Torres said. “I know I’m going to be even more nervous next time, but I’m happy to have another chance to compete. When I missed my word, I knew it was okay because I was going to be the third finalist.”

Lopez, who also placed second at his school competition, said he, too, was confident—because of all the time he spent preparing.

“I thought this was going to be pretty hard,” he said. “I was confident, but I really practiced a lot. Right now, I’m kind of nervous about the next contest.”

A Spanish Spelling Bee has been a goal for District Bilingual Instructional Specialist Kirza Matamoros Vallecillo, who is in her third year with CISD.

“I have wanted to engage our students in this competition since I first heard about it,” she said. “I am a strong believer in our emerging bilingual students being able to use both languages, and this relates directly to that. Two years ago the Region XI contest was canceled due to COVID, and last year with some of our students, and teachers, engaged in remote learning it just wasn’t a good time for it. This year, the time was right.”

“This opportunity to compete encourages kids to have a love for their Spanish language and culture and to be proud of their desire and ability to become bilingual,” Matamoros Vallecillo said. “Seeing those kids’ faces as they competed, seeing them being so excited, affirmed that this is something we should be doing. We know our kids can do well in academic contests like this—and so much more. We’ve seen our dual language students represent their campus as the winners of their school English spelling bee. Now they are representing their campus as the finalists in their school Spanish spelling bee.”

Matamoros Vallecillo gives much of the credit for the launch of a Spanish Spelling Bee in CISD to the campus bilingual specialists.

“The teachers have been very positive about having this,” she said. “They have also wanted us to be among the districts sending competitors to the Region XI contest and, like me, are very happy to see this finally come into place. Tuesday’s District contest began with classroom competitions, so we couldn’t have done this without the support and ownership of the project we received at the campus level.”

“I spoke with a parent at one of our campus contests. She was so excited to be at her child’s school and cheering for her child in a competition she understood. She felt included, maybe for the first time, and was so happy to see her child was included. Hearing this from a parent really warmed my heart--and it told me I’m in the right place—it’s where I need to be.”

Torres was among those at the Spanish competition also preparing for his school’s “other” spelling bee. The nine-year-old has been busy studying two spelling lists—in two languages.

“I’ve always dreamed to be in the spelling bee,” he said. “I never thought I could be in two.”

Cleburne’s first Spanish Spelling Bee District contestants will be recognized by Trustees at Monday’s school board meeting.