A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of helping as a volunteer at the inaugural Spanish Spelling Bee in Poughkeepsie on the 2nd floor of Art Centro. The event was thought up, planned and made possible by Vassar's Urban Education Initiative and La Voz's Mariel Fiori who recognized the gap between Hispanic students' education and the study, practice and appreciation of the Spanish language. Registration was open to all Spanish speaking students in grades 4-6 and publicity reached throughout Dutchess county to as far as Kingston. I had posted previously an article listing the many benefits of being bilingual for the developing mind, for creative pursuits and obviously for cross-cultural communication, but the most important benefit I see to this generation of students is being able to eventually improve the integration of the growing Hispanic population into other communities, government agencies, and sectors of work, while maintaining cultural diversity and traditions tied to the Spanish language.
I was a witness to the the planning and preparation that went making this event a success. They purchased shiny brand new Spanish novels to give as prizes to all participants, and a Spanish dictionary to the top finishers: very fitting prizes for a competition that was fun yet serious- a great academic enrichment activity.
The day of I helped with set-up- moving chairs upstairs and stringing multi-colored pennant flags from the ceiling to liven up the space. Other volunteers present at the event included a Bard student-employee with La Voz and several Vassar students involved in some way with VCUEI.
The rules of the bee were clearly explained to the students and were posted on the wall for them to read. To start off, the judges gave some examples of appropriate responses with regards to spelling and accents.
Professor and head of the Hispanic Studies department at Vassar College, Mihai Grünfeld, willingly agreed to serve as the moderator for the bee, announcing and enunciating the words for the students. The panel of judges also included a Vassar student of the group M.E.Ch.A. provided sentences with the words when requested by students, and a local Spanish author (of childrens' books, I believe).
The 2nd floor of Art Centro was filled with the encouraging family members, the fans of the students who support them in school and in their extracurricular undertakings.
Lunch after the bee was catered by El Patron, prepared by Enrique and delivered with his new protege. The buffet was impressive as usual and everyone left satisfied, some with leftovers.
I think it achieved its goal of seriously engaging Hispanic and Spanish-speaking students with the Spanish language- one often spoken casually and at home, but whose grammar and literature receive little attention in school curriculum throughout the US, despite the significant number of English-Spanish bilingual individuals living in the country today. All in all I think everyone- students, parents, volunteers, and organizers- would agree the inaugural Spanish Spelling Bee was a great success that should absolutely continue to take place and grow in the years to come.