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Fort Defiance Agency Spelling Bee champs advance to final bee

Fort Defiance Agency Spelling Bee champs advance to final bee


Twelve students from six schools within the Navajo Times-Fort Defiance Agency will have a chance to represent the Navajo Nation at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland, May 28.

But first, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, student spellers must go up against the other tribe’s finest spellers March 9.

On Tuesday, the young talents were eager to hear the words, “Congratulations, you will be going to the Navajo Nation spelling bee,” which gives them a chance to show off their spelling skills.

The schools within the Fort Defiance Agency gathered at the Office of Dine Youth to compete in their respective grade levels to have a shot at competing at the Navajo Nation-wide spelling bee on March 9 if weather permits. The competition will be held at the ODY gymnasium in Fort Defiance.

Kelly Haven, three-time Navajo Nation spelling bee champion and current high school senior, knows all too well the mix of nervousness and excitement each student felt participating in the spelling bee.

Haven said she was offered the opportunity to volunteer as a board official for the 8th-grade spelling bee and said, “I felt like the spelling bee was where my roots were…I feel like it took over a majority of my life and it influenced my future career choices and I wanted to give back to the younger generations because I was just like them.”

When remembering how she used to be one of the younger kids participating, she admired the skill sets she could learn because of the spelling bee.

“It allowed me to speak, learn how to talk to people, how to be social, and how to use words correctly and how to communicate with media,” said Haven.

Second-grade spelling bee champion, Gavin Arthur, said he felt good and was running throughout the gymnasium with excitement after winning with the word, “Pace.”

However, excitement wasn’t the initial emotion the young spelling-afficionados felt during or prior to the spelling bee competition.

Throughout each room, every now and then the “ding” of the dreaded bell being rung kept students on high alert. The ringing of the bell meant the student misspelled their word. Students would close their eyes or threw their heads back in disbelief. Some parents in the audience shook their heads as soon as the misspelling of the word happened.

Eighth-grade champion, Tazbah Spruhan, said, “I felt really scared, I thought I was going to mess up.” She said to help focus on spelling, “I took deep breaths and kept telling myself I’m not going to mess up.”

As students took to the microphone, many had different ways to cope with the anxiety.

Some students like Spruhan took deep breaths and had to reassure themselves to ease their nerves a bit, some third graders brought up their fingers tracing the spelling of the word to get a better grasp on how it’d look, or some like Josiah Harper, fifth-grade champion, tucked their hands in their pockets and leaned a little to feel confident and calm at the same time.

Harper said, “I feel good, I studied hard, and my dad pushed me to study more (and mom).” Harper’s dad sat anxiously in the back of the room as the group of spellers got smaller and smaller until it was just Harper and one other student.

Trying to be as quiet as possible, Harper’s dad left the room for a second to feel the excitement and pride he felt with his son who had won the fifth-grade level Fort Defiance Agency spelling bee.

Right down the hall, a mother also sat anxiously while watching her daughter repeatedly go up to the mic and knock out every word correctly.

Jenna Hoskie was the third-grade champion, winning with the word, “uplift”, and said she felt happy.

Hoskie’s mom, Janet Deschinny, said, “I was hesitant. I kept telling her to practice and she kept saying, ‘No, I’m OK,’ and then went to play. Every week we’ve been trying to study because of the delays from the weather. We try to sit down and study. She’ll do ten to fifteen minutes of studying and then I’ll let her have a break and then it’s back to studying. I know she knows the words but then she starts messing up, that’s when I know she’s really tired.”

Sitting in the front row before the panel of pronouncers and judges, students rubbed their hands repeatedly focusing on the microphone. Other students kept turning back to look at the audience. watching them but to also find their parents for comfort.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Tséhootsooí Intermediate School sixth grader Jordan F. wins in her class division on Tuesday in Fort Defiance.

Jordan F., sixth-grade champion, said she felt nervous but going home tonight, she is excited to tell her family that she got first place in the spelling bee because to focus on spelling each word, she thought of her family.

Many of the champions expressed the same relief and happiness for having won, the hours and days leading up to the agency spelling bee.

Haven shared her advice for future spelling champions or current champions who were told to keep studying despite spring break coming up, “Definitely join ‘Word Club’ because “that’s really important.”

“I feel like that gives you a lot of words and need-to-know definitions. The second would be knowing the origin of a word because when you learn patterns of words, you’re able to learn where it comes from and how it influences the way it’s spelled,” the three-time spelling champ said. “I also suggest starting to learn prefixes and suffixes, and also don’t feel so hurt if you don’t make it because you always have another year and if you don’t you still have other opportunities.”

Arizona will be holding its annual state spelling bee, according to the Arizona Educational Foundation, which helps provide teachers across Arizona with support and enrolling their students in spelling bees.

AEF works with the different levels of spellings bees statewide and also is a part of the organizing team for the Arizona state spelling bee which is the final spelling bee before heading off to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Spelling bee coordinator for the Fort Defiance Agency, Nathaniel Natonabah, said, “I think it went great because we had six schools representing the Fort Defiance agency. We were able to identify our alternate, champion runner-up, and those individuals from fourth through eighth grade.”

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Henry Johnson, father of Damilya Johnson, a third-grader at St. Michael Indian School, takes a video of her as she competes in the Fort Defiance Agency Spelling Bee competition at the Office of Diné Youth in Fort Defiance Tuesday.

Natonabah said starting up the bee after a couple of years of remote learning was slow. They got off to a late start but thanks to Navajo Times sharing the startup of the spelling bee again, Natonabah said the momentum picked up.

Despite the lower number of schools that participated in the Fort Defiance agency, Natonabah said he hopes there will be more school participation in future spelling bees.

All spelling bee contestants gathered in the gymnasium for the award ceremony celebrating the students who will go to the Navajo Times-Navajo Nation Spelling Bee.

“I just wanted to congratulate all the little ones here who participated in the Fort Defiance Agency spelling bee, not only our Fort Defiance spelling bee but across the Nation. They did a tremendous job in getting here, their study habits also the encouragement from their parents and teachers, they did a great job,” said Natonabah.

Next Thursday’s competition, spellers first have to take a spelling test, which they must pass with a 60% or better. Those who pass, can then compete in the spelling bee contest. Registration starts at 8 a.m. The public is invited to attend.

About The Author

Kianna Joe

Kianna Joe is Bit’ahnii and born for Kinyaa’áanii. She was born in Gallup. She received first place for best editorial in the student division for the 2022 National Media Awards. She is now an intern for the Navajo Times, covering matters in the Phoenix Valley while attending school at Arizona State University.


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