That was the winning word that 12-year-old Jybr Reynoso Hidrogo, a student from San Antonio's North East Independent School District, spelled and enunciated correctly to win the national title for this year's Sixth Annual National Spanish Spelling Bee Competition.
More than 60 family members and educators flew or drove across the country to support their kids during the competition on Saturday, which was held at San Antonio College's McCrelees Hall for the first time this year. An awards dinner at Education Service Center, Region 20 followed at 1314 Hines at 5:30 p.m..
Reynoso is the the first student from San Antonio to win the national title. Eight students from Texas and three students from San Antonio made it to the national competition this year. In total, 27 kids from around the nation participated in the final after winning in their schools and districts.
Reynoso received a plaque and a $500 gift card from American Express for winning first place. Second place went to 6th grader Kiara Rivas Vasquez from Beaverton School District in Beaverton, Ore. who received a medal and won a $250 gift card. Third place went to 7th grader Angelique Ibarra from the Rio School District in Oxnard, Calif. and she received a $100 gift card and a medal.
All three finalists were gifted books from Santillana, the largest educational publisher in the Spanish-speaking world. In addition, all 27 finalists got a certificate of participation.
The Rivard Report captured the winning moment live. Click here to see the video of the final round with the last three finalists.
The national competition for students in 4th to 8th grade has taken place in New Mexico for the last five years and all winners from years past have also hailed from that state. The change of location to San Antonio is part of a larger effort to extend the competition's reach and create awareness on the importance of students learning multiple languages in order to be global citizens.
"To be rewarded for something that's a part of your culture is kinda cool I think, and helps keep (the kids) engaged in school," said Robert L. Long, principal from Thompson Elementary school in Houston. Long drove to San Antonio to support his student, fourth grader Crystal, and her family in the competition.
William Moss, a black teacher from New York, said that his goal as a bilingual teacher is to bring the Hispanic, white, and black communities together through the study of the Spanish language.
"There's a lot of people who have different views about the presence of Latinos in our country – to put it nicely – so I think it's important that there be different efforts to try to bring people together," Moss said. "The Spanish language and any language can do that."
Moss said that it's common for Spanish-speaking students to have little to no interaction with the English-speaking population in certain schools and some "programs tend to shun people in classrooms," he said.
Recent history has told stories of children in San Antonio and other cities being punished for speaking Spanish in school. Today, it was clear that we have come a long way.
Sharon Mullen, former regional sale manager for Santillana, said that through the years, she's seen the competition grow and grow, and that families from all backgrounds, cultures, and skin colors are participating in the Spanish Spelling Bee.
Language immersion programs are popping up in schools all over the country, and the term "dual language" in place of "bilingual" is catching on like rapid fire, Mullen said.
Educators like Moss are also on board to expand the program and see it as a positive link among students from all walks of life.
"Why not have U.S. American kids who are learning Spanish in school interact with immigrant kids who are trying to learn English in school in a medium where they're studying the same thing, which is Spanish," Moss said. "We have to build these mechanisms for people to learn from each other, get along, and experience things together to help our country to grow and heal."
This year's competition was emceed by Steven "Guero Loco" Stiegelmeyer, winner of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Chicago Music Award for Best Reggaeton Entertainer. The judges were News Anchor Brenda Jimenez from Univision, City of San Antonio Education Policy Administrator Ana Acevedo, UTSA Associate Professor of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies Patricia Sánchez, and Ofelia Gonzalez, who works at the Mexican Consulate.
Univision played a key role in organizing the event, as it is aligned with their education platform within the Contigo Initiative. They provided prizes for both the regional and national contests as well as talent for announcers, judges, and emcees.
The students were given a list of 1,448 words to practice for the competition. When spelling, contestants were required to include the special diacritical marks of the Spanish language, such as accents, the tilde, and the dieresis. As students were told how to spell certain words during the spelling bee, many asked the judges for definitions or to give examples of the word in a sentence. Each participant would use a small whiteboard to spell out the word before pronouncing each letter.
Words ranged from basic terms such as "horchata" and "jalapeño" to harder ones like "pantógrafo"–pantograph, or "psicodélico"– psychedelic. As the words got more and more difficult, contestants were eliminated. For many it was an emotional experience to hear the buzzer, signifying an incorrect pronunciation. Some tears were shed, but family members embraced their children, saying how proud they were of their accomplishments.
As the competition grew more and more intense, audience members gasped and held on to their seats in suspense. Last year's winner, Andres Arreola from Sunland Park, N.M., came to the stage and wished the final three contestants good luck, telling them, "you are already champions for being here, winning in your district and your state."
When it got to the final two students, Reynoso and Rivas, Rivas got the word "ermitaño" wrong, and Reynoso hesitated. He had to pronounce it right and spell out another word to win. When he spelled out the second word "Tahití," and one of the judges said "correct," shouts and claps were heard around the stage, and Reynoso's family came up to the stage.
"Me siento increíble, muy feliz y orgulloso" Jybr said –"I feel incredible, very happy, and proud." He studied for two hours every day to prepare for the competition, he said.
"I am very fortunate to have a son like him, he is very dedicated to his studies, obedient, responsible, and well-mannered," his mother, Rocío Reynoso de Hidrogo, said in Spanish. "I am proud that my son is putting the Spanish language and San Antonio's name very high, and how amazing that someone from San Antonio won the competition that was held in our city for the first time."
"The fact that my son was born here and he is a U.S. citizen, and that he is representing the language we speak at home, and the fact that this competition is only growing only shows that there is a bright future for bilingual people," Reynoso de Hidrogo said. "It will open so many doors for these kids."
Top image: Rocío Hidrogo de Reynoso hugs her son Jybr as his father Liborio and sister Keytt look on. Photo by Rocío Guenther.