100 vie for numero uno in Spanish spelling bee
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 26, 2004
Yvonne Wingett

For Samantha Arroyos, Roosevelt School District's Spanish spelling bee all came down to freedom.

L - i - b - e - r - t - a - d.

The pigtailed, 8-year-old third-grader from Ignacio G. Conchos Elementary School correctly spelled the Spanish word, meaning freedom, beating out 30 other second- and third-graders who were also painstakingly vying for the top-speller rank at the Torneo de ortografía on Thursday.

For the Arroyos family, which came to south Phoenix three years ago from Juarez, Mexico, not knowing a word of English, capturing second place in the primary-level competition meant more than being a good speller.

It represented the beginning of an education that eventually will land Samantha career opportunities that she wouldn't have had in Mexico.

"Estoy orgulloso, I am proud," said mother Neida Arroyos, who watched the spelling bee. "She's always accomplishing her goals, and this was one of her goals. For us, it's an achievement, not only for her but for her teacher."

The Spanish Spelling Bee has become a tradition at Roosevelt, where an estimated 80 percent of the district's elementary and middle school students are Latino. Fifty percent of the district's 12,000 students are English-learners, or monolingual Spanish speakers, administrators said.

Although other school districts in the Valley, such as Tempe, hold Spanish bees, Roosevelt has come under some fire by state officials for its use of Spanish in the classroom.

"I think the activities need to be chosen more wisely," said Margaret Garcia-Dugan, associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education. "If children do not speak English, that is what they should be teaching them if they are monolingual students."

District officials say the method is essential given the students and population they serve.

About 100 second- through eighth-graders participated in the event, with six girls outspelling all of the boys. Mareli Aguilera, 8, a third-grader at Ed & Verma Pastor Elementary, won first place in the primary level; Vania Rodriguez, 10, a fourth-grader at Sunland Elementary School, spelled her way to numero uno at the intermediate level; and Irlanda Espriella, an eighth-grader at Percy L. Julian School, won the first-place position at the junior-high level.

"I studied for an hour every day after school and also during school," said  Rodriguez, of south Phoenix. "I can spell words in both languages."

Reach the reporter at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-4712.

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