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The City Journals

Vista Elementary sixth-grader named ‘campeón’of state Spanish spelling bee

Jun 05, 2019 04:25PM ● By Jet Burnham

Beyoncé Salas spells words from the National Spanish Spelling Bee’s list of words. (Photo courtesy Alexis Vallbona/Vista Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Beyoncé Salas, a sixth-grader at Vista Elementary, won first place at the Utah Spanish Spelling Bee, held April 9 at Weber State University.

“Beyoncé won the contest with ease and confidence,” said Alexis Vallbona, Spanish Immersion teacher at Vista. “It is an honor for Vista to be able to participate in state contests and send talented students that are proof of individual talent as well as the quality of our programs.”

Beyoncé placed third overall in last year’s state bee, the first year Vista Elementary students had participated in the competition.

“I decided last year my fifth-grade students were tremendously talented and could enjoy participating in this experience,” said Vallbona.

The statewide spelling bee was organized by Weber State University’s National Hispanic Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi. Society adviser and event chair Isabel Asensio said the bee promotes the Spanish language and bilingual education. She believes it provides an empowering opportunity for young students to develop and showcase their academic and linguistic skills.

The competition is open to fourth- through eighth-graders from public, charter and private schools. Three students from each school are allowed to compete. Students study vocabulary and spelling for months in preparation for the event, winning their school spelling bees to qualify for the state competition.

“The words used in the contest come from the National Spanish Spelling Bee list and are certainly challenging even for adult native speakers,” said Vallbona.

Some participants are heritage speakers—their families speak Spanish. Others are students learning Spanish exclusively through a DLI (dual language immersion) program, such as the one at Vista.

“Throughout the last five years, I have seen that being a heritage speaker or not doesn’t make a difference,” said Asensio. “You are either a good speller or not.”

In addition to the spelling contest, the competition includes an impromptu role play where students show their language proficiency. For this segment, heritage and non-heritage speakers are judged separately.

Asensio, who is also the national Vice President of Sigma Delta Pi West, said the event is a boost for the Hispanic community.

“With an event like this, Hispanic students get to realize that they are not to be ashamed of their culture and language—it is OK to speak and learn Spanish right, and you can even be rewarded for it,” she said.

Asensio has seen an increase each year in the preparedness of the students. She said the event is a good experience for them to study hard, get out of their comfort zone, interact with students of varying proficiency levels, practice good sportsmanship and to have fun.

“I believe these students are special because they are learning two languages,” she said. “This event helps them realize that it’s not in vain, that their hard work pays off, that there is value in speaking multiple languages and this skill will set them apart later in their professional life.”