Eagles fly away with Central Agency spelling bee

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Pinon Accelerated Middle School students stand with their awards received at the Central Agency Spelling Bee on Feb. 1 at Diné College in Tsaile, Ariz. From left: Kaileigh Cody, 6th grade, champion; Ayianna Manycows-Yazzie, 6th grade; Raylante Begay, 7th grade, champion; Logan Shorthair, 7th grade; Oriana Begay, 8th grade; LaTisha Mike, 8th grade, champion.


What does it take to field a winning academic team? Make school both challenging and fun, says Piñon Accelerated Middle School counselor and spelling coach Bob Tsinnie.

“We have these guys taking a lot of college-track classes,” said Tsinnie, whose team captured the top spot in every grade level but one in the Navajo Times/Navajo Nation Central Agency Spelling Bee last Thursday. “They take extra math and reading,” Tsinnie said. “In the morning they have learning strategies, and after school we have chess club, Native club and anything else the faculty wants to offer. “These kids love going to school,” he said.

It certainly showed at Diné College on Feb. 1, as students from Piñon Middle and Piñon Elementary nabbed trophies in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade competitions, plus the first three places in the subsequent spell-off between all the grade levels. In addition to Piñon’s rigorous courses, said Aiyanna Manycows-Yazzie, the alternate in the sixth-grade division, the coaches, Tsinnie and Eva Mahkewa, really seem to care about their charges.

“On the way here, we were all nervous,” she said. “They told us to take deep breaths and settle down.”

It should be noted the competition wasn’t as stiff as it has been in prior years. Only four schools — the two in Piñon, Rock Point Community School and Tsaile Public School — turned out for the bee, and the traditional powerhouse, Chinle Junior High School, was A-W-O-L.

Spelling ability also seems to have slid in recent years; the judges and pronouncer had trouble finding words the contestants could spell, and at one point had to resort to the practice word list to keep the competition going. Judge Tyler Manson blamed the word-anticipation function most cell phones have these days. “You just type in a couple of letters and your phone finishes it for you,” he said.

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Categories: Education

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.