If you think spelling aloud in English is a challenge, try to remember saying that becerro is spelled with a “b” grande and that vocabulario is spelled with a “v” chica.
The two letters proved to be stumbling points for many of the fourth- and fifth-graders who participated in Sweeney Elementary School’s Spanish spelling bee on Thursday.
And then there were the accents. Many simply forgot to include them. Others, like Selena Araiza, completely misplaced them.
Selena gave up the first-place award to friend Cecilia Rodriguez after Selena incorrectly said tambor — Spanish for drum — had an accent on the “O.” The word has no accent.
It was a friendly competition. But it had a serious purpose.
Nearly half of Sweeney’s 700 students are native Spanish speakers. The school follows a “bilingual maintenance model,” which means Spanish speakers develop skills in their first language before moving on to English.
“We like to speak Spanish, and we love to spell,” Cecilia said of herself and her friends after winning the first-place trophy more than an hour into the competition.
The fifth-grader, along with her friend, third-place winner Betty Saenz, clutched hands for most of the competition. After the three winners were announced, many of the 52 students who were eliminated from the contest surrounded them in congratulation.
The students — who chose to participate in the bee — fiddled with such words as lagartija (lizard), durazno (peach) and bicicleta (bicycle).
Sweeney’s champions will participate in a districtwide competition Jan. 23 at the B.F. Young Professional Development Complex.
This is the seventh year that Santa Fe Public Schools has held the Spanish bee for its students, said Rick Gutierrez, the district’s director of bilingual education.
Last school year, the district as a whole identified 2,900 of its 13,000 students as English-language learners, meaning English is not their first language.
At Sweeney Elementary, Cecilia, a native of Uruguay, said she moved to Santa Fe seven months ago with her family and is still learning English. But she wants to learn both languages fluently to expand her job possibilities in the future, she said.
And that’s one of the reasons the school participates in the contest, said fifth-grade teacher Robert Madrid, who organized Thursday’s bee with the help of teaching assistant Miriam Santistevan.
“We have a big immigrant population, so it’s very important that these students know their first language,” Madrid said. “This is one way to do that.”
The school used words provided by the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Educators, and the students were given six weeks to study, Santistevan said.