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A-C-T-I-N-I-C: Shonto dominates Western Navajo Bee

A-C-T-I-N-I-C: Shonto dominates Western Navajo Bee


Twenty-two students from grades fourth to eighth grade competed in the fourth and final round of the Navajo Times-Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee at Shonto Preparatory School.

Shonto Preparatory hosted one of the last two spelling bees on the Nation Tuesday in preparation for the Navajo Nation finals on March 9 in Ft. Defiance.

The competition was initially scheduled to take place in Tuba City last week. Still, the much-needed moisture also made driving conditions to Tuba City unsafe and out of the question for the students, staff, and families, and it was postponed to Tuesday.

The contest was relocated to Shonto Preparatory, which offered its facility because Tuba City Boarding School informed spelling bee organizers they would not be participating.

After completing the regionals, the winners will advance to the final spelling bee. The event winners will attend the 95th National Scripps Spelling Bee, May 30-June 1, at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

With 22 students competing in Shonto, the competition lasted nearly three hours.

Physical features

Navajo Times | Holly James
Aliyah Jones, a Shonto fifth-grader draws a number from the hat randomly selecting her line-up order for the Navajo Times/Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee Feb. 28 in Shonto, Ariz.

Jayden Jackson, 13, a seventh grader from Shonto Preparatory, was the champion for his grade class, competing against one other competitor. His winning word was “geography.”

“My mom is my inspiration, and I just want to tell her I love her,” Jackson said.

Diana Saganey, a teacher from Dził Łibéí Elementary School, transported and chaperoned the six students competing in the bee from her school.

One of those students was Manna Begay, who placed first in the fifth-grade round.

“Manna and her brother were pretty much readers by the time they were in kindergarten,” Saganey said.

Saganey has known Manna and her brother since they started kindergarten. She attributes the siblings’ success in school to their mother and extended family support.

“Their mom is really good about reading to her children, as well as the grandpa is very active in their lives,” Saganey said.

Saganey explains that they were already excellent spellers when she began teaching the siblings.

Begay elaborated on her apprehension. Begay says she has been practicing for precisely one week and two days. Her nervousness, she says, was because she practiced so hard, and she really wanted to win.

“I am happy, but I was so nervous I was shaking,” Begay said.

Begay is looking forward to the finals and says she is a little scared, knowing there will be many more students from all over the Nation, but she is preparing and continuing to study for that competition.

Four schools down to three

Navajo Times | Holly James
Manna Begay receives a hug from her teacher at Dzi? ?ibéí Elementary School while competing at the Navajo Times/Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee Feb. 28 in Shonto, Ariz.

Tyler Manson, program and project specialist for the Office of Diné Youth, has been sponsoring the bee for nine years. He says 18-21 schools typically generally participate in the Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee, and this year, only four registered.

“I was pretty upset at the low turnout,” Manson said.

On Monday, Manson reached out to the schools registered to compete; however, when he confirmed attendance with the schools, Tuba City Boarding School stated it would not participate.

This year’s school participation has seen a drastic reduction in participation from prior years, and the COVID-19 pandemic halted the competition in 2020. However, Manson feels there might be an additional factor for the low registration: a general shortage of teachers.

Spelling bees are considered an extra-curricular activity, not a part of the school curriculum. Principals have difficulty finding teachers to volunteer and sponsor the spelling bees. Manson has received feedback that it is difficult to find teachers who can take on the task and see the extra time, coordinate, and practice to help the students.

In the Scripps National Spelling Bee, there is written test competitors have to pass in addition to the spelling. The written portion of the bee is based on definitions.

The sponsors of the Navajo bees implemented a written portion in the Navajo bee’s finals about four years ago to help the students gain familiarity and prepare the students for that aspect of the national level.

Based on the written portion, the students must meet at least 60% or greater to advance to the oral bee. The champion from the Navajo finals will move the Scripps.

The Navajo Nation Finals will be held March 9 in Ft. Defiance.

2023 Navajo Times-Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee

Pronouncer: Krista Allen, editor for Navajo Times

Sponsor: Tyler Manson, Office of Diné Youth-Tuba City

Head Judge: Chantz Samuel, Office of Diné Youth

Judge: Tyler Manson

Bailiff: Delta Higdon

Fourth grade

Champion: Bryan Doctor, Shonto

Runner-up: Noah Patterson, Dził Łibéí

Rounds: Six

Championship word: Zebra

Fifth grade

Champion: Manna Begay, Dził Łibéí

Runner-up: Karlita Chee, Dził Łibéí

Rounds: 17

Championship word: Benefited

Sixth grade

Champion: Adrian Maimone, Shonto

Runner-up: Naomi White, Shonto

Rounds: Three

Championship word: Inverse

Seventh grade

Champion: Jadyn Jackson, Shonto

Runner-up: Jayden Jones, Shonto

Rounds: One

Championship word: Geography

Eighth grade

Champion: Shania Smith, Shonto

Runner-up: Antonio Alvarez, Shonto

Rounds: 10

Championship word: Actinic

Completed spelling bee dates:

Feb. 2 – Chinle

Feb. 9 – Crownpoint

Feb. 15 – Shiprock – This bee didn’t happen because area schools didn’t register.

Feb. 28 – Ft. Defiance

Feb. 28 – Shonto (relocated from Tuba City)

Upcoming Navajo Nation final

March 9 – The final bee will take place at the Office of Diné Youth-Ft. Defiance. The head judge is Chinle Council Delegate Shawna Claw and the pronouncer is former Navajo Times reporter Cindy Yurth, who retired in spring 2021.

About The Author

Holly James

Holly James is Kinyaa'áanii (the Towering House Clan) and born for Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water Clan). Her maternal grandfather is Kinłichíi’nii (Red House Clan), and her paternal grandfather is Honágháahnii (One-walks-around Clan). Ms. James was born in Tséhootsooí (Fort Defiance), Ariz., and grew up in Phoenix. She began her tenure with the Navajo Times as a freelancer, and a year ago, she moved from Nevada to Diné Bikéyah and became a full-time reporter. Her passion is sharing the light of her Diné People, the tenacity, pride, ingenuity, and resilience they show daily. She intends to enrich the hopes and aspirations of the Diné through the stories of contributions and hardships, survival, and culture revitalization.


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