The Spelling Bee Contest

img_7288So, Greg and I are swimming in work right now, but one of our “sons” from Scouts asked us to spend the morning at Colegio Valladolid judging a spelling bee.

Judge a spelling bee? Words are either spelled correctly or they’re not, no? What’s to judge? You give kids words, when they mis-spell they sit down, and you continue until one person remains standing. Right? We figured we’d show up, spend an hour or maybe an hour and a half, have some fun, and come home.

Well, just like book clubs here in Mazatlán are different than those I grew up with up north, evidently spelling bees are different, too. Here we were judging a school spelling bee “contest,” with three top winners to be selected for each grade level, pre-K through ninth grade. They had already held spelling bees in each classroom, so the top three students from every class participated in this school-wide contest. Words were printed on paper and put into a container, and each student fished out three small pieces of paper. Those papers were given to the judges, and we read each student three words.

Judging was HARD. Sometimes lots of kids spelled all three words correctly; sometimes almost no one spelled the words correctly; so how were we to choose? We were told that the students should repeat the word at the beginning, before they started spelling, and again at the end, once they finished spelling. They should spell the word correctly, pronounce it correctly, and have confidence. So, at least we had a few additional criteria.

The other problem for me was the kids are CUTE!!!! Way cute! How distracting is that, lol? We had five year olds through junior high school kids. Some were nervous, some were excited, some spelled fast, others spelled slow, some sounded out the words, some seemed to just throw letters out into space. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The whole gym was decorated for the spelling bee. Colorful drawings of bees were everywhere: on the walls, topping the pens, on the word container, on the stages. Teachers wore yellow polos with black pants, and most students wore yellow and black, also. Teachers also put “feelers” on their heads; it was all quite amusing. Lucky kids.

I was astounded at how good the five year olds were spelling words in a foreign language. I was also blown away at the older kids, who ably spelled difficult words that many native speaking adults spell incorrectly. I wondered at why there were so many girls in the contest at the younger grade levels, and proportionately more boys at the older grade levels. What changes and when? I felt bad for the kids who’d say “e” for “i,” because that’s how it’s pronounced in Spanish. And I really felt bad for the little girl who cried because she didn’t win first place; broke my heart!

Obviously the event went on a bit long with so many kids and 10 grade levels! We spent the entire morning at the school. And it was a lot of fun. We felt like “international celebrity judges.” The kids wanted to take pictures with us and their teachers. We were served a nice breakfast. We had several parents commend us for being fair and impartial. We enjoyed watching our “son” shine; I had no idea his English was so good! And we did him and his colleagues a favor; they were obviously happy not to have to judge the spelling bee themselves—it seems parents can be competitive!

About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, and currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner we've raised a bicultural, global-minded son. I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

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