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April 10, 2021

San Lucas student becomes spelling bee champion

Sophia Soto now heads to county competition

SAN LUCAS — Sophia Soto has won the title of District Spelling Bee Champion at San Lucas Elementary School. 

The finish at the recent school-wide spelling bee not only means a trip to the county spelling bee to represent San Lucas, but it is also Soto’s sixth local spelling bee championship.

“She’s a hard worker who dedicates herself, especially in spelling,” said Tom Carvey, Soto’s teacher. “She has a great vocabulary.”

Carvey said Soto memorized the word list not only for this year, but the past six years. That dedication has led to her victory since she first participated in a spelling bee during third grade.

Carvey noted that Soto has secured her place as a top speller, even with English as her second language.

San Lucas hosts two rounds of spelling bees, one for K-5 students and the other for students in sixth through eighth grades. Champions from the upper grade bracket are able to go on to the county competition.

While Soto has memorized her word list, and had the support of her parents in her endeavors, this year’s approximately 450 words included many challenges.

“This past year, the words were pretty hard on it,” said Jessica Riley, San Lucas superintendent and principal. “I myself wound up googling probably 80 of them to make sure I pronounced them correctly. Quite a few of them were of French origin in this particular batch.”

The shift between origin languages, such as going between Latin and French words, can be enough to trip up students, but French has a particular quirk with a propensity for silent letters.

Riley said Soto’s parents asked her if she could help the student with preparation for the spelling bee in January, to which she agreed.

“She showed up and did all the words with me,” Riley said.

Though middle school students from San Lucas go to the county competition, this is only Soto’s second year at the competition, since last year’s competition was stifled by the pandemic.

“When the 2020 bee was canceled, I felt disappointed because I wasn’t able to get on stage and show the judges all my hard work and dedication that I put into learning those challenging words,” Soto said.

Stage fright is normally a hurdle for students to face, especially for those from small schools like San Lucas, but this year’s county format is planned as virtual.

“She is known around the school as the person who can spell all the words,” Riley said. “It really is where she shines.”

Riley noted Soto found initial success with her third- and fourth-grade spelling bee performances and then worked hard at practicing for future bees.

“She’s been taking her education seriously,” Riley said, adding that Soto might not be school valedictorian as there are other students with higher overall grades. “She’s always at or above grade-level proficiency.”

Riley said Soto’s benchmark analysis tests have shown exceptional vocabulary scores.

“This is her final chance,” Riley said. “I don’t think it matters to her whether she wins. She’s just excited she gets to finish at the top of the spelling bee every single year she did it here at San Lucas.”

Students Priscilla Valencia and Sophia Alvarez took first and second runner-up, respectively, in the district spelling bee.

Sean Roney
Sean Roney
Sean Roney is the reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers education, government and general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.
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