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Hearing-impaired 5th grader to compete in Texas spelling bee

WICHITA FALLS, Texas – A fifth-grade girl will face triple the challenge of her competitors in an upcoming Scripps Regional Spelling Bee.

Yaquelin Anaya is hearing-impaired but didn't let that stop her when competing in Cunningham Elementary School's campuswide contest.

Not only does she come from a home where only Spanish is spoken, but she still is learning English and is perfecting sign language.

Still, she won the Cunningham spelling bee, which advances her to the regional contest March 23, sponsored by the Wichita Times Record News and Midwestern State University.

She will compete with 25 other children.

"Nothing like this has happened in the history of the spelling bee," said Frances Tate, bee coordinator, referring to the regional bee. "She really has a challenge. For her to get where she is, is truly amazing."

Anaya, who lives in Graham, Texas, attends Cunningham Regional Day School for the Deaf in Wichita Falls.

"This child is a very bright child," Cunningham Principal Christy Henry said. "Most of our deaf-ed kids are. They're having to learn a language in sign language, plus a verbal language. They're dual-language to start with. This child is triple-language. She signs, she understands English and her parents are Spanish-speaking."

You wouldn't pick her out from the school hallways as any different from her friends. She reads, draws and listens to music by Justin Bieber and One Direction with the help of her cochlear implant.

She plays soccer with her siblings, goes to movies with friends, travels to Mexico to visit her grandparents and likes to shop with her mother and sister.

And, it turns out, she can spell.

"We felt it was important that my students participated as well," said Anaya's teacher, Kim Thorne. "We wanted them to do something that is fun and engaging."

Her students were given synonyms of the spelling words as cues to the actual words that they were required to spell.

With Anaya's advancement to the regional contest, the spelling bee coordinators and Thorne conferred for more than an hour on how best to approach the reading of words to make the contest fair.

A hearing-impaired contestant competed in a national spelling bee in 1996, so coordinators used regulations from that contest for guidance.

Because sign language doesn't have exact words for everything, Anaya will be signed words that define the spelling word, requiring that she guess at the actual word.

For example, if the spelling word is "quiche," her prompt would be "egg casserole" or "egg pie," to which she must infer the correct meaning of the word and then spell it properly.

If the word is "dungaree," the signer will give her the first letter of the word, then slap her thighs with the hope that Anaya will know the appropriate word.

Anaya, who can speak slightly, will spell aloud, Henry said.

"This little girl is phenomenal. I'm so incredibly proud of her," Thorne said.

Her participation is a testimony to the achievements a child can make with caring, involved parents in the wings, Henry said.