Dual Language SchoolsHow The National Spanish Spelling Bee is Rewarding Bilingualism

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The National Spanish Spelling Bee just successfully completed its 9th annual competition in Denver, Colorado, this past weekend. Hosted by the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education, the spelling bee allows children in grades 4-8 from across the country to come together to highlight their Spanish-spelling skills.

This year, 40 spellers from 15 states and the District of Columbia competed for the national title. To be considered correct, students must include in their spelling the special diacritical marks of the Spanish language, such as accents, the tilde, and the dieresis. After more than seven hours of competition from 9 am to about 5:15 pm, the spelling bee ran out of time and words, and the nine competitors left standing were crowned co-champs.

“Multilingualism and multiliteracy are 21st-century skills that deserve to be valued and promoted,” says David Briseño, the National Spanish Spelling Bee founder and coordinator. He’s designed the event to develop these skills in young students, as well as to encourage good-spirited competition and sportsmanship.

Though it hasn’t received the national recognition as its English counterpart (which just completed its ninety-second competition), the National Spanish Spelling Bee has been steadily growing in both support and participants. This year alone, Briseño says the event grew from nine to fifteen participating states and the District of Columbia.

The organization’s website (http://nationalspanishspellingbee.com/)provides support for schools interested in hosting their own schoolwide, local, regional, or statewide Spanish spelling bee. Doing so helps the event develop a growing number of competitions around the country, which can then send their winners to the national Spanish spelling bee.

Getting here hasn’t been easy, though. There have been multiple challenges to overcome throughout the years, such as internal politics and bickering among the leaders in bilingual education at the national level. Briseño says that’s been a huge challenge that they continue to try and work through.

In addition, he’s found it difficult to organize the event from the small community where he lives, while working a full-time job. This leads to another obstacle: finding volunteers to step up and help with website maintenance, social media, preparation, and editing of the annual spelling bee booklet and the lista de palabras.

The greatest challenge the spelling bee continues to have, however, is in finding sponsors that will provide financial backing. This year, they set up a GoFundMe page to allow individuals to donate to the spelling bee.

Briseño says, “We [strive] to provide our students and their families with a truly unforgettable experience. We provide meals for the participants and their supporters throughout the weekend. We would also like to provide the families in attendance with a pass to a local theme park, museum, or waterpark so that they can spend Friday afternoon together. Currently, the funding is not available for that.”

The organization does its best to support the students and their families before and during the spelling bee. Each year, their website offers downloads of both the word list and study guide. And the actual event gives the students a chance to have fun with friends and family, as well as an opportunity to make new friends as they meet other competitors their age from very diverse backgrounds. “We intentionally built in social events, meals, and other activities,” he says, in order to give the students and families time to have fun and to explore the host cities together.

“At the very first event,” Briseño says, “a dad shared with me that he was very thankful for the opportunity to spend time with his son. With tears in his eyes he shared that he felt that all he did was work, eat, and sleep. He had to work multiple jobs to provide for his family and he was too tired to do much else. He stated that this was the first time in many years that he actually had the opportunity to visit with his son and spend time with him.”

The National Spanish Spelling Bee isn’t just a competition, it’s an opportunity to bring families closer together and build up the students.