Nervous students, 6 through 18 years old, sat fidgeting in their seats near the stage as they waited for their turn on stage. The younger ones spelled words like “air” and “after,” while the older kids tackled tougher challenges, like “erroneous” and “encyclopedia.”

The kids all belong to the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio and were competing in the program’s annual summer spelling bee. The purpose was twofold: to have fun and keep academic skills sharp over the summer.

“Our focus is to keep learning fun because we want the summer to be fun and do it in a competitive way, get the kids excited to learn,” said Renee Garvens, chief of development for the Boys & Girls Clubs, which have hosted the competition for 14 years.

Students in five age groups – more than 50 in all – competed at Our Lady of the Lake University’s Thiry Auditorium on Wednesday night, being given increasingly challenging words to spell. 

The winners in each age group won a trophy and a year of free meals at event sponsor Whataburger. The Boys & Girls Clubs branch with the most first- and second-place winners won a larger trophy that will reside at the branch throughout the year. The Calderon branch and the Eastside Teen Center tied for top honors, each having four top-two finishers.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio operate after-school and summer programming at six branches across the city as well as at additional school locations. 

In addition to the fun of competition and winning trophies, the spelling bee is designed to help combat learning loss that can occur over the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association, students can lose about two months’ worth of math skills during the summer. Low-income students, such as those served by the Boys & Girls Clubs, could lose more than two months’ worth of reading skills.

Angel Cerrvantes, a youth development professional who has spent about eight summers training students for the spelling bee, said she has seen the kids take what they learn from the spelling bee into the classroom once school starts.

“They always tell me, ‘I am ready for school. I am ready to go back,’” Cerrvantes said. “They know how to spell all those words now, and they can use it for school and not have trouble. Sometimes they have a national spelling bee at their school, and I hope that one of our kids will be up there one day.”

To measure whether programming like the spelling bee can help reduce “the summer slide,” the Boys & Girls Clubs will collect data on how students score on a reading comprehension assessment at the beginning of summer and at the end of summer.

“The kids all chose to be in [the spelling bee] – nobody forced them,” said Maria Reynolds, the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Calderon branch director. “They are definitely kids that are motivated. It’s really exciting because a lot of kids maybe don’t have other talents that they can showcase in this type of way, but this gave them a chance to be up on stage.”

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Laura Morales

Laura Morales is a freshman studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and a contributor to The Daily Texan.