That’s the word that prevented Mesita Elementary fifth grader Sheneli De Silva from winning the regional spelling bee in 2019, and it is the concept that finally helped her become the area’s top speller this year.
Sheneli on Friday beat out more than 150 spellers from west Texas and southern New Mexico to win the EPISD Education Foundation’s El Paso Regional Spelling Bee at Bowie High School. She will represent El Paso at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
“I feel excited and happy and proud of myself because I practiced so hard and I get to go to Washington,” the 10-year-old said following her win.
Sheneli corrected spelled the word ‘montage’ to win on Friday after four rounds of spelling in the finals. Another EPISD student, Wiggs Middle School’s Isai Sanchez, was in a heated spell-off to earn third place in the contest.
The spelling champ, however, said she was happy with her performance and her parents credit her determination for her win.
“She reads a lot,” said her father Sohan De Silva. “We ask her to go to sleep ad she’s reading. She has her little light on … reading at night.”
Mesita Elementary reading teacher Monica Montes-Quiñonez coaches Sheneli and is hopeful that she will become the fifth El Pasoan to win the national spelling bee.
“She’s an amazing student who works really hard,” Montes-Quiñonez said. “I am so proud of her and happy for her family. They’re so kind and represent Mesita very well.”
Sheneli’s family immigrated from Sri Lanka to El Paso and speak Sinhalese at home. Sheneli also speaks English, Spanish and is studying Mandarin.
Getting to the finals of the regional spelling bee was no easy feat. She, along with about 60 other spellers qualified to the stage round of spelling by tackling a strenuous preliminary written test asking students to spell words like ‘paramecium,’ ‘maquillage’ and ‘lotophagi.’
During the finals, Sheneli kept calm and collected during the heated competition, correctly spelling ‘tabernacle,’ ‘joule,’ ‘ermine’ and ‘chrysalis’ before she spelled the championship word.
She will now begin preparation for the national spelling bee, and advises future local spellers approach their campus spelling bees with the same determination she did this year.
“Try your best. You can do it,” Sheneli said.
The judges for the 2020 spelling bee included El Paso Public Library Marketing and Customer Relations Coordinator Jack Galindo, El Paso Times Librarian Trish Long and El Paso County Human Resources Contract Administrator Michael Martinez.
The pronouncer for the competition was 2009 Spelling Bee winner Katie Stone, a grant writer for the non-profit organization Families and Youth, Inc.
The 76th edition El Paso Regional Spelling Bee was organized by the EPISD Education Foundation.
Story by Liliana Gonzalez | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD