TURLOCK — The practice word was "Agosto," or August. That stumped no one, but it got tougher from there for 36 top Spanish spellers from area dual language school programs.
The Spanish Spelling Bee on Tuesday morning showcased the language skills of students from the Central Valley Dual Language Consortium, 14 schools from Hollister to Livingston offering parents the choice of a bilingual education.
Eighth-graders Miguel Rincón and Javier Acevedo of Walnut Grove School in Patterson said Tuesday was their second time at the spelling bee, held at California State University, Stanislaus.
"I got farther the first time," Javier said after being eliminated.
Miguel said he studied hard, got lots of sleep and a good breakfast, but still only lasted the first round. "It was fun to try it," he said.
Parent Teresa Chavez, speaking in Spanish, said she enjoyed watching her daughter compete. "She says she's very proud of me," translated fifth-grader Camila with an eye roll. Camila goes to Elim Elementary in Hilmar.
Like English, Spanish is spoken in many countries with many accents, and several students said they stumbled over unfamiliar pronunciation. What to capitalize, where to put accent marks were other pitfalls.
The words tested went beyond the sample spelling list, a shock to one parent. But organizers said they never wanted the contest to be about memorizing and students appeared to take it in stride.
"I practiced the list. It helped me because it had the accents," said seventh-grader M'Khayla Sandoval of Dutcher Middle School in Turlock.
Teacher Maria Torres Pérez said she liked seeing the students' enthusiasm. "It helps them see other students doing what they're doing, becoming bilingual. This is just fabulous," said Pérez, who teaches at Yamato Colony School in Livingston.
Incentive to keep with it
For Juan Flores, coordinator of bilingual programs in the CSUS Department of Teacher Education, the contest offers an incentive for younger dual language students. "At high school they have the Seal of Biliteracy, but you want to keep them on that pathway, help them see the value of being bilingual," Flores said.
Organizer Martha Mendonca announced the day's winners: first place, seventh-grader John Adamson of Dutcher; second place, fourth-grader Maria Isabel Robles of Selma Herndon Elementary in Livingston, tripped up by "llovizna," the Spanish word for drizzle; third place, fifth-grader Jahaira Muratalla of Campus Park Elementary in Livingston, after missing the accent on "basculá," which means tipping.