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For Southern New Mexico’s Best Spellers Competing Nationally Means Representing Texas

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Only twice has a New Mexican ever won the Scripps National Spelling Bee… And both times the victory ended up going to Texas. A lot of New Mexico’s best spellers only get a shot at making the national spelling bee by crossing state lines and competing in a Texas competition. New Mexico ranking second to last nationally in both reading and writing the trend might spell out a bigger problem for the state education. This is the final round at the 2014 Scripps regional spelling bee qualifier in El Paso Texas… A decisive moment for 8th grade contestant Melody Hardwood. Last year Melody won and went on to represent Texas in the national spelling bee competition, even though she’s from Silver City, New Mexico. And she’s not alone. For the last three years New Mexicans have won the El Paso Texas Scripps spelling bee qualifier. Olivia Weinbaum was the winner in 2013, she is a sophomore at Centennial High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Olivia went on to compete in the national spelling bee in Washington, DC. “All my friends were super excited and people I didn’t even talk to, they were super excited because they went to the same school as I did. A few of my teachers recorded it and sent it too me. Nut they were also really confused as too why my name tag said El Paso instead of Las Cruces.” says Olivia Weinbaum. Why are Southern New Mexico’s best spellers representing Texas? Because New Mexico only sends one student to the national competition every year and the qualifier competition for it is held in Albuquerque. So students in southern New Mexico have to cross into Texas to compete. “Mississippi they only had one contestant as well and then the super smart states they had more than 10 contestants or 15” Olivia Weinbaum says “Massachusetts and NewYork had 19, Ohio had like 13 and then there was sad little NM with only one” This year West Virginia sent 4 contestants, Idaho sent 3, and Maine 2. These are all states with smaller populations than New Mexico. Olivia’s mother Lisa Winebaum teaches history at Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces. She points to a 2014 National Center for Education Statistics study that ranked New Mexico students second to last nationally in writing. A report from the Annie E Casey Foundation gave New Mexico students the same ranking in reading proficiency. “T spelling bee is just a symbol, of in our case unfortunately a lack of priorities.” Lisa Winebaum says. Lisa Winebaum runs the spelling bee club at Lynn Middle School. She says spelling bees can raise academic standard. But the real value is the effect it has on students and not just the high academic achievers. “They see themselves as an intellectual; I am participating in this intellectual endeavor and therefore it translates into their grades. It translates in to their study habits, it translates into their work ethic. Both directly in the classroom but also in indirect ways, I mean I have kids that are already starting to study for next school year for the spelling bee”. Lisa Winebaum says. There are school and city spelling bees in southern New Mexico, but Winebaum has been pushing for a Scripps spelling bee in Las Cruces that could give students a shot at qualifying for the national spelling bee. The Las Cruces Public School Foundation announced they would start a Scripps event this past school year, but it didn’t happen. KRWG arranged an interview with Executive director Nyeta Haines to find out why but Haines cancelled and declined to reschedule. In a statement Haines cited organization complexities, but said “The LCPS Foundation is still interested in the possibility of co-sponsoring this event”. Winebaum is concerned it is never going to happen and academic achievement will continue to be overlooked. And that could result in a repeat of 1962 and 1983, the years New Mexicans won the national spelling bee while representing Texas. “In the eighties he won the national spelling bee, from Alamogordo he won th...