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C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N: Lók’a’ch’égai girl Shynelle Joe wins Navajo Times/Office of Diné Youth Final Regional Spelling Bee

C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N: Lók’a’ch’égai girl Shynelle Joe wins Navajo Times/Office of Diné Youth Final Regional Spelling Bee

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
Navajo Times

LUKACHUKAI, Ariz. – When Shynelle Joe completed spelling the word “rankles,” she was puzzled.

“I was like, ‘That’s all?’ Where’s all the fireworks, celebration music and confetti like they do in the movies?” she said.

C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N: Lók’a’ch’égai girl Shynelle Joe wins Navajo Times/Office of Diné Youth Final Regional Spelling Bee

Navajo Times | Jan-Mikael Patterson
Tsaile Public School sixth grader Shynelle Joe looks toward the spelling bee pronouncer at the Office of Diné Youth-Fort Defiance on March 21.

The moment was surreal as Shynelle was named the Navajo Times/Office of Diné Youth Final Regional Spelling Bee on Thursday.

Joe, 12, is a sixth-grade student at Tsaile Public School. Her clans are Tó’aheedlíinii born for ‘Áshįįhí. Her cheii is Táchii’nii and nálí is Todích’íi’nii’. Her mother is Sherri Joe, and her elder brothers are Nehemiah and Shelby Joe.

“It was nerve-racking,” Sherri said after she watched her daughter compete. “I had butterflies in my stomach the entire time.”

Sherri remembers the moment her daughter was named the winner. “I was so proud I was in tears,” she said. “My son took my hand and brought me back to the spelling bee. I wanted to jump up and scream.”

“You should have,” Shynelle responded.

Preparing for this past spelling bee was a family effort.

Before Shynelle’s school excused students for winter break, she was told about the spelling bee competition.

“My teacher, Ms. (Koty) Jim, came (into our classroom) and asked us if we wanted to do the spelling bee,” Shynelle said. “A bunch of my friends in class, they said they would do the spelling bee, too.

“I decided to do it for fun, just to see how far I could get,” Shynelle said.

She was given a blue book with nine stapled pages. Her mother and brothers took apart the booklet and decided to help.

“Her brothers and I took certain pages (each),” her mother said, “and we all put the pronunciation on the left side of the listed vocabulary terms and the definition on the right side.

This wasn’t Shynelle’s first rodeo when it came to a spelling bee competition. In first grade, she took second place. She lost to her classmate Koen Harvey, who won first place. Her nephew, Wiley Joe, took third place. Both students were also in the school competition but ended up not placing.

The first stage of this year’s competition took place in Shynelle’s school, Tsaile Public School, on Jan. 29.

Shynelle remembers her expectations at the time. She said, “I just told myself to make it past the first round.”

Shynelle didn’t want to lose initially because she expected more from herself. So, her motto regarding the bee was “get past the first round.”

Shynelle advanced to the first round of the school competition. In the second round, she was given the word “forgeable,” which she misspelled. Luckily for Shynelle, the rest of the competitors also misspelled their words.

This was a second chance, and she won the school competition.

Next was the Central Agency Dine Youth Spelling Bee competition on Feb. 21 in Chinle.

Shynelle finished as the runner-up for the sixth graders at Chinle, making her eligible for Thursday’s final competition.

Studying and practicing with family helped as they moved away from the provided list and took on more challenging vocabulary.

Shynelle smiled and pointed toward her mom when asked what kept her motivated. “Her!” she exclaimed. “She’s the one that said to me, ‘I’m killing myself for you, so you better win.’”

Sherri just smiled and said, “She made me so proud. I knew she could do it. Now we get to go to Washington, D.C.”

Her mother believes reading helps Shynelle learn vocabulary terms. “She’s always reading something,” she said. “Everywhere we go, she has a book with her.”

“It’s because of my grandma,” Shynelle said. “When I was small, we used to go to Gallup a lot, and my grandma would tell me, ‘Take a book to read.’

“She had a shelf full of books. I don’t remember what they were about, but I remember they were interesting,” she said. “And my grandpa drives slow, so I needed something to do.”

Her cheii and másání are Anslem and Maria Joe of Lukachukai. Her paternal grandmother is Lillian Begay of Dennehotso, Arizona.

“I believe that she started (reading) at a young age because of her older brothers,” her mother said. “They had quite a collection of books they read and a collection of Disney books.

“So, she would read those princess stories, and she was so into that, reading at a young age. I tried to read to her when she was small.”

Sherri also used books from the Salina Bookshelf of Flagstaff to read to Shynelle.

“One thing to mention about her is that once she got into kindergarten with the Chinle School District,” her mom said, “she’s been a ‘Career Ready’ student every year.”

“I mean, I do like school, but it’s just that sometimes I need a break,” Shynelle giggled. She meant a break from other students and teachers.

These breaks are part of a benchmark testing program for high-achieving students called “College and Career Ready,” where they are tested quarterly during the school year.

Earning the highest grade and achievements in school every year earns her and many other students the chance to be included in the career-ready circle, which comes with perks like attending a Chinle Wildcats home game or a field trip during Kid’s Day to the Navajo Nation Fair.

“Now that she is in sixth grade, I think she likes the privileges and the rewards of going on outings with the school,” her mother said.

When asked what privileges or outings she liked best, she grinned, “Getting taken away from class.”

Shynelle’s favorite subject in school is math, but she likes the teaching style of Ms. Jim, her English and language arts teacher.

She is preparing “to get past the first round” at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.


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