Harlingen middle schooler to represent the Valley at the Scripps National Spelling Bee

March 3, 2019

WESLACO — Vastitude: the quality of being vast or immense.

That was the winning word at the 31st annual Rio Grande Valley regional spelling bee, in which 51 students from across the region competed to see who would represent the Valley at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

As students went up on the stage of a lecture hall at the South Texas College mid-Valley campus in Weslaco, they asked the presenter for the origin, definition and alternative pronunciation of words, buying them some time to think about how it’s spelled. Many would pretend to write it on their hand, others would mouth it out before spelling out loud. One student from South Texas ISD, Darius Taft, made the gesture of the holy trinity each time he went up on stage.

The spelling bee was sponsored by AIM Media Texas Newspapers, which include The Monitor, The Valley Morning Star and The Brownsville Herald. Marcia Kitten, circulation sales and marketing manager with AIM Media, said the spelling bee celebrates literacy among local youth.

“The RGV Regional Spelling Bee is more than a celebration of our spellers, and a journey they’ll never forget,” she said. “It helps our papers inspire a new generation of readers and leaders.”

One by one, the pool of spellers narrowed down to the last 10. Words like autobahn, gondola, jackal and cryptic were responsible for the elimination of eager students. Once they sat down with their families some shed tears, while others paid close attention to the remaining competitors. After all, each participant spent months or years preparing, each having to qualify by winning their school or district spelling bee.

It soon came down to two last spellers, Karyn Gonzalez of Longoria Middle School in Edinburg and Isabella Jackson of Vela Middle School in Harlingen. They sparred over words like nitrate and syntax until Isabella took the winning word.

V-A-S-T-I-T-U-D-E,” she said, provoking cheers from the crowd, especially her mother, Stephanie Jackson.

“It was a little tense, a little nerve-wrecking,” she said. “She loves to read, she’s a natural speller. When we started on this path, we didn’t think we’d end up here.”

Isabella, an eighth-grader, never participated in a spelling bee until this year. She’s spent every day this school year practicing. One of her secrets: looking at the speaker’s mouth, paying close attention to the sounds they’re emphasizing.

“I didn’t think I’d make this far,” Isabella said. “I’m a little nervous and excited for Washington D.C.”


1st Place: Isabella Jackson, Vela Middle School, Harlingen CISD

2nd Place: Karyn Gonzalez, Longoria Middle School, Edinburg CISD

3rd Place (tie): Sydney Jo Pena, Liberty Memorial Middle School, Los Fresnos CISD

Siya Vinoj, Garza MIddle School, Edinburg CISD

Angel Guerra, Central Middle School, Weslaco ISD