Sundance Elementary sixth-grader wins Spanish Spelling Bee

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The room was deathly quiet as elementary students sat in nervous anticipation of the Los Lunas District Spanish Spelling Bee Thursday morning.

Each speller wrote the word they were given on a yellow note pad while standing at the podium. Sometimes they wrote it a few different times, trying to find the correct spelling.

A couple of contestants were eliminated in each round, and four heard the little bell signaling an error in the fourth round.

Cris Morales, a sixth-grader from Sundance Elementary School beamed with pride when he triumphantly won first place in the fifth round.

"I've been in the Spanish Spelling Bee twice, but this is the first time I won," Morales said. "I really didn't expect it."

The winning words were, "nenúfar," which means a lily pad, and "nonagenario," which means someone aged in their 90s.

Smiling shyly right behind Morales was Rocio Chávez, an eighth-grader from Valencia Middle School, who won second place.

"My mom would tell me the words, and I would write them down," said Chávez. "Then we would go over the list, and she would check them.

"If they were wrong, I would look up the definition for them. That really helped, because then I'll know what it means."

Third place went to Ann Parish Elementary sixth-grader Byridyana Avitia.

"I studied for hours, in my room, until I knew them," said Avitia.

The Spanish spellers did not often ask for the origins or definitions of the words they were given to spell. Lena Mae Chavez, one of the judges, believes it may be because Spanish is their first language.

Spanish Spelling Bee judge Linda Jones said the easiest way to learn the language is through immersion. She grew up in South America, and Juliette Romero Benavídez, the third judge, attended the University of Puerto Rico.

Morales said his parents were very helpful in his preparation for the competition. They read the words, and he would spell them.

"My older brother (José, 22) taught me the rules of Spanish spelling," he said. "That probably helped me the most."

Morales, who will go on to the state spelling competition on April 13 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, said he's nervous, but feels fairly confident.

"I think I may have a chance at state," Morales said.

His mother, Lilia, said she feels excited, and very proud of her son. Being involved in her children's education is very important to her, she said.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.