Shoshana Winkelstein is a fifth-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood. She tells us about the remarkable achievement of one of her students, Yogeeta Gurung, a refugee who has been in the United States for nine months. — Katy
Talented students, proud parents and teachers all crowded into the auditorium of Tilden School this month for the Oakland school district’s annual spelling bee. As I arrived, students were registering, getting their contestant numbers and lining up beside the stage. When the students stood quietly, waiting to climb the stairs to the stage and introduce themselves, I imagined they were both nervous and excited.
My student, Yogeeta Gurung, a native of Nepal, has only been in the United States for nine months. While in Nepal she had been schooled in English, which explained both her excellent verbal and writing skills, but she is also an extremely motivated and hard working student. In my class she never hesitates to ask for clarification around an assignment, or to ask questions about her writing and grammar usage. Yogeeta is a pleasure to teach and a huge asset to our classroom community.
Yogeeta was impressive at our own school’s bee as she quickly swept through the list of words and was deemed Garfield’s champion speller. She performed no less impressively at the district’s spelling bee. There were many excellent spellers, but Yogeeta’s speed and confidence truly set her apart.
As she made it through the rounds and fewer students filled the seats, I became increasingly nervous, worrying that she might be feeling anxious. I’m sure I was just projecting my own emotions because she seemed perfectly content perched in her seat, clapping for all the other students. By the time there were only five students left on stage I had the realization that there was a good chance Yogeeta might win. I grabbed my friend and colleague sitting next to me and blurted out, “She’s going to win.” And she certainly did.
With amazing grace and confidence, and only nine months in this country, Yogeeta Gurung won the Oakland Unified School District’s Spelling Bee.