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Inaugural ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee Does More Than Hone Spelling Skills for Bilingual Students

ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee winners
A picture of the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee participants
Lincoln Middle School Mariachi group, Los Bravos, performing at the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee
Lincoln Middle School Mariachi group, Los Bravos, performing at the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee
Lincoln Middle School Mariachi group, Los Bravos, performing at the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee
A picture of the audience watching the Lincoln Middle School Mariachi group, Los Bravos, performing at the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee
A picture of ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee participants and audience members
ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee winners with competition coach, Eloisa Griffin
A picture of Angelo State University Professor Mrs. Maria Onfre-Madrid, who provided the pronunciation of the spelling words at the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee
A picture of the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee Judges
A picture of the ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee sign
Inaugural ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee Does More Than Hone Spelling Skills for Bilingual Students

In a spirited, linguistic face-off, 23 students from Lincoln Middle School and other area schools showcased their Spanish-word mastery at the first-ever ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee on May 16. 

The event, hosted by the Education Service Center (ESC) - Region 15, is more than just a spelling bee. Beyond honing spelling skills, the Spanish Spelling Bee cultivates an appreciation for the Spanish language and culture and allows participants to celebrate Hispanic heritage and the Spanish language.

“This was a great experience for our kids,” said Joe Gándar, Lincoln Middle School Principal. “Many of my students are from Mexico so riding on the bus to the Region Center for a big competition was a big deal. We introduced it as a big deal and the Region Center made it a big deal. We even had our Lincoln Mariachi, Los Bravos, perform to open up this inaugural Spanish Spelling Bee. That was at the Region 15 request. Overall, it’s a great memory, moment, and milestone for all of us.”

The Spanish Spelling Bee also empowers students and provides them opportunity for personal growth. Through competition, students develop valuable life skills including increased self-confidence, improved communication skills, and building resilience in handling pressure.

“Many times, our emergent bilingual students are not able to demonstrate their strengths using their native language and to celebrate their native language,” said Mary Castanuela, ESC Region 15 Title III Education Specialist Regional Testing Coordinator. In a June 2024 article, the San Antonio Express-News quoted a study conducted by Test Prep Insight. It reported Texas as “‘Among the most bilingual’ in the nation, having more than 10.6 million, or 36 percent of its population able to communicate in another language in addition to English. In Texas, that other language is Spanish,” the newspaper reported.

“I felt that students were able to see how many adults were interested in them developing their home language – that being bilingual is a superpower, and students were able to see that firsthand,” said Angie Pidgeon, SAISD Director of Differentiated Instruction & Special Populations. “The students took the event so seriously and gave it their all – so many of those contestants who were eliminated continued to spell out the words on their whiteboards to keep practicing their heritage language. They made me so proud that these students understand the benefits of strengthening their bilingual skills.”

After 17 rounds, Maria Villarreal, a seventh grade student from Lincoln Middle School, took first place in the Spanish Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of “barbilla,” the Spanish word for “chin.”

“Oh, my goodness! It was amazing!” said Ms. Castanuela. “We made it through seven rounds to finally get to the last two competitors … It was exhilarating and people were literally on the edge of their seats for those last rounds!!” 

A total of 23 students from Lincoln Middle School and Miles Junior High competed in the Spanish Spelling Bee, with Lincoln MS students taking the top three places. “The final rounds were intense,” said Mr. Gándar. “It was Lincoln vs Lincoln. There was a lot of back and forth.” First-place winner, Maria, and 2nd-place winner, Aylin Ponce, also from Lincoln Middle School, competed against each other in the final 10 rounds for first and second place. 

“I honestly can say I am so elated to have had that many students competing and putting themselves out there,” Ms. Castanuela said. “Kudos to them!! I feel that it was a great success in celebrating these students and celebrating them being bilingual or studying to become bilingual. As an emergent bilingual myself, it makes my heart smile how we celebrated bilingualism and the Spanish language!!”

The Lincoln Middle School Mariachi group, Los Bravos, performed several songs for the audience as they waited for the competition to begin. The Spanish Spelling Bee Master of Ceremonies was Mr. Miguel Ocampo and Angelo State University Professor Mrs. Maria Onfre-Madrid provided the pronunciation of the spelling words. Luis C. Urtega, Maria Teresa Villar and Wendy Woodring served as the Spanish Spelling Bee judges.

From idea to implementation, the inaugural Spanish Spelling Bee was coordinated within a short time period, said Ms. Castanuela. She said ESC Region 15 School Improvement Coordinator and Texas Instructional Leadership Lead, Dr. Michael Bohensky, brought back the idea of holding a Spanish Spelling Bee for Region 15 after meeting with other education service centers in Texas in February. The ESC Region 15 surveyed school districts in the region to see if they would be interested in participating in a Spanish Spelling Bee and then quickly turned the idea into implementation. 

Ms. Castanuela said of the 20 education service centers in Texas, only a few have hosted a regional Spanish Spelling Bee. “I believe the only ESCs that have hosted a regional Spanish Spelling Bee are Region 4, 10, 11, 19, and 20, and we can add Region 15 ESC to that list,” she said. “We hit the ground running the last week of February and we pulled it all together by meeting with Region 10 for guidance and advice and then dividing up responsibilities within our team: Dr. Michael Bohensky, Shakeah Hoffman, Monica Diaz, Elizabeth Rangel, and me.”

Mr. Gándar said Mrs. Griffin presented the opportunity of competing in the Spanish Spelling Bee to Lincoln MS Emergent Bilingual (EB) students in March. Many of the students began preparing for the competition at home. Once STAAR testing was over, students practiced as a group with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher Eloisa Griffin three to four times a week. Mr. Gándar said Lincoln MS had students from all three grade levels – six, seven and eight – representing the school at the Spanish Spelling Bee. 

“Mrs. Griffin set up the practices as if they were actually competing in a Bee, and the students wrote all the words, regardless of whether they were at the podium or not,” Mr. Gándar said. “If the student at the podium spelled their word incorrectly, Mrs. Griffin gave the rest of the group a chance to show out. It was loud, crazy and fun. If Mrs. Griffin saw that there was consistent misconception in how words were spelled, they did whole group spelling practice. When we did this, Mrs. Griffin would write the word and spell it out loud, then she would have the students participate in choral spelling.”

The Regional Spanish Spelling Bee was open to students in Region 15 schools in grades four through eight who: (a) Have previously taken part in an elementary bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) program or are (b) Currently enrolled in a heritage Spanish LOTE or similar course if there is no bilingual program available at the secondary level. 

Ms. Castanuela said she knew it would be difficult for schools to participate in this year’s Spanish Spelling Bee because of time constraints. “All 46 school districts in Region 15 were invited to participate, but we also understood it was quick turnaround to help prepare the students for the competition.” As a result of the tight turnaround of the event and not having enough time to prepare for competition, no elementary schools signed up to participate in this year’s Spanish Spelling Bee. “They had to consider how busy this time of the school year is and the administration of the state assessments along with all the extra-curricular activities happening.” 

ESC Region 15 has already set a date for the 2nd Annual ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee – March 26, 2025. “Mark your calendar!!” Ms. Castanuela said. “This event is a great opportunity to showcase emergent bilingual students or students studying to become bilingual with Spanish and English. Let’s celebrate our students and their native language!” 

Congratulations to the Winners of the Inaugural ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee: 

  • 1st Place – Maria Villarreal – Lincoln Middle School, 7th Grade
  • 2nd Place – Aylin Ponce – Lincoln Middle School, 8th Grade
  • 3rd Place – Josthin Raudales – Lincoln Middle School, 7th Grade

“I thought [the Spanish Spelling Bee] was a great opportunity for our Spanish speaking students, and students in general,” said Mr. Gándar. “I’m glad Lincoln was part of the inaugural Spelling Bee, and I’m proud that a Lincoln student won the first ever Spanish Spelling Bee. It all starts with their ESOL teacher, Mrs. Griffin. She makes believers out of her kids and it’s a blessing to be a part of that.”

San Angelo ISD would like to extend a proud congratulations to all the Spanish Spelling Bee participants. SAISD also extends a sincere thank you to Mrs. Eloisa Griffin, for coaching the students, helping them prepare for the competition and cultivating their talents. The district commends the generosity of the following community partners who made the inaugural ESC Region 15 Spanish Spelling Bee possible: La Esperanza Clinic; Kiser Carpet, Sherry Schellhase, Addresses Realtors; MDG Builders, LLC, R & D Woodworking; Gracie’s Heavenly Creations; Henry’s Diner; Los Carlos; Julio’s; and Nothing Bundt Cakes.

To stay up-to-date on San Angelo ISD, please visit the SAISD website at www.saisd.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and for more information on the Bilingual Program continue reading below.

More on the San Angelo ISD Bilingual Program – ¡Orgullo Bilingüe!
SAISD is committed to all English Language Learners’ (EL) language and academic needs. We believe it’s important for our students to hold onto their native language of Spanish and to continue speaking it fluently, while developing English language skills and achieving academic success. The SAISD Bilingual Program is designed to provide Spanish-speaking students the opportunity to be English Proficient by the 3rd grade. The program builds knowledge and learning of academic subjects in a child's first language and English while instilling self-assurance, confidence and cultural pride. For more information or questions, contact SAISD Director of Bilingual Emergent Christy Diego by phone at 325-947-3838 ext. 798 or by email at christy.diego@saisd.org.