Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How I Spell Work

When I’ve cried “busy” in recent blog posts, what I’ve been alluding to is Spelling Bee Morocco™.

It’s a project of mine that has taken up the lion’s share of my time since last December and involved a number of my PCV friends as well – Ryan Scheidt (website), Mark McEnery (graphic design), Mimi Duong and Fauve Johnson (City Bee organizers), and Maureen Sieh (connections and press coverage) – and many others who’ve pitched in here and there. The idea came from another PCV, Ben Pennington, who finished his Peace Corps service last October and is back in Tennessee writing, reading, and making music.

Trophies and medals for the
 City and Regional Championships

Morocco is a land of many languages. Most people speak a dialect of Berber (there are three main ones, including Tamazight, the one I speak) or Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. In school, they are taught Modern Standard Arabic from the 1st grade on. They begin French in 3rd grade.  In recognition of the role of English as the current lingua franca of the world, the Ministry of Education mandated the offering of English about 10 years ago. But it does not begin until 9th grade and lasts only four years and there just aint much English spoken here.
So Spelling Bee Morocco™ aims to promote and popularize the use of English – through play, not testing. As a uniquely American creation, spelling bees also offer opportunities for cross-cultural education. Spelling Bee Morocco™ has two main activities – a competition and a website. The competition provides motivation and recognition for Moroccan students of English. The website provides information about the competition, but, just as importantly, it functions as an ESL resource for students and teachers all year long. The Spelling Bee Morocco™ competition is open to students through 12th grade.
During the practice round at the Kalaa City Championship
We’ve partnered with the regional chapter of MATE (Moroccan Association of Teachers of English) for Ouarzazate, Zagora, and Tinghir provinces. Our hope is to develop a program that will become national in scope, but this first year we decided to restrict it to the region, get some experience, and work out some details. This is what we’ve done so far:
·         Developed a website and created a Facebook page
·         Applied for and received a grant from WorldConnect/Kids2Kids to support the cost of City Bees and the Regional Championship
·         Held five trainings that introduced the spelling bee concept (pretty much unknown in this country) to about 50 teachers
·         Registered 25 schools, which finished their school championships earlier this month
·         Held four City Spelling Championships, which were completed last Sunday.
And this is what remains to be done:
·         Hold our Regional Championship in Ouarzazate, the largest city in the region.
·         Start all over again. Things have gone well enough so that we think we can expand it - and that's a whole new ball game.
Checking to make sure all spellers are in order in the
Solo Bee at the Kalaa Championship
Despite the challenges of introducing a new concept, working long-distance, organizing a multi-part event, trying to work to a schedule in a country where serious planning seldom seems to extend more than a day or two in advance, it has gone pretty well. On Friday and Saturday, May 25 & 26, twenty-seven of the best spellers in southern Morocco will converge on Ouarzazate for the first ever Spelling Bee Morocco Championship. As in the States, talent and desire will tell. The group includes one ninth grader. The remaining spellers are split about evenly among 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. The spellers will compete in two events, a team spelling bee and a solo spelling bee. Teams of three spellers each from five schools will compete for the team title. Seventeen spellers will vie for the solo title.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it all turns out. In the meantime, you can follow “Spellbound,” the blog for Spelling Bee Morocco™  by providing your email in the app on the blog page. You can now also follow us on Facebook. Please go there and “like” us.
And now…I’m busy. I still have a championship word list to create.
The top finishers of the Kalaa City Solo Spelling Bee