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Spelling Bee, deaf style

By Miriam G. Mazliach

May 7, 2013

It was a morning of firsts as a group of young students at the California School for the Deaf (CSD), participated in their inaugural Elementary Spelling Bee on April 26. An excited and packed audience of parents, teachers and students filled up Klopping Theatre.

According to parent Elvis Zornoza, “The APTC (Association of Parents, Teachers and Counselors), had brought up this idea at a general meeting and the Elementary principal, Adele Ann Eberwein expressed how much she would like to have it happen this year. APTC voted and passed the new business to create a first annual Spelling Bee for CSD Elementary.”

The participating students, seated on stage, represented various grade levels, from first to fifth. As each student took his/her turn, they stepped forward while the coordinator signed a word in American Sign Language (ASL), where not every letter of the word is spelled out but a representative symbol or phrase is used to indicate a word. However, in this unique Spelling Bee, after deducing the word, the student had to correctly fingerspell it, letter by letter. Fingerspelling is accomplished by utilizing one’s hands to form the shape of the letters of the alphabet. Current research has shown that early exposure to fingerspelling helps deaf children become better readers and gain a larger vocabulary.

Sometimes when the student could not understand the word clue or concept, they would ask the coordinator to provide them with a definition for clarity. All words assigned were appropriate to each student’s specific grade level.

After each answer, audience members showed their support by raising up and waving a hand in the air, described as a “one tree shake.”

At the conclusion of eight rounds, the winning students were announced:
1st Place: Reza Mosher – 4th grade
2nd Place: Matthew Aboudi – 5th grade
3rd Place: Chang-May Tan – 2nd grade

The top three students received books and gift certificates to Target. Runner up students received $15 gift certificates for their participation and effort.

Summing up the morning’s activity, Principal Eberwein commented, “Congrats! I’m very proud of all these students. They all learned many words and how to stand up here [on stage] and present them, showing participation and commitment. Thanks to APTC, the parents who thought up this idea of seeing new events here, and who were supportive of doing this.”

Founded in 1860, California School for the Deaf is a K-12 school. For more information, visit

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