When I was 10 I competed in a spelling bee competition at my elementary school. I lost to my best friend at the time, Bridget. A loss that would later be rectified by the fact that Bridget would go on to compete in the district competition and I got to tag along. She was out by round 2.
But that’s how spelling bees go. One and you’re done.
While certainly some skill is involved, there is essentially an element of luck that also takes part. It’s lovingly referred to as a game, not a test. So when I learned about Spelling Bee Morocco, a joint effort of the Peace Corps and the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English (MATE)- I thought it might be a good idea to share with the English teachers at my high school.
In many ways, high school in Morocco is a lot like high school in America There’s dreaded teachers, too much homework, typical teenage drama, and even afterschool fights. But in many important ways high school in Morocco is vastly different from high school in America, the foremost being a desparing lack of community amongst the students and staff.
There aren’t very many afterschool activities for kids, i.e. no organized sports teams, talent shows, or opportunities for community service. (The ACCESS program provides an exception to this.) The ‘lycee’ is almost exclusively an institution of learning. Most kids go to school and then go home, girls especially. This often manifests itself in the answer of ‘walou,’ or ‘nothing,’ when I ask kids what they’re up to when I see them around town.
So following my In-Service Training (IST) last September, I presented the idea to my main counterpart at the lycee. He is the president of our local branch of MATE, so I figured he’d run with it. And thankfully, he did. There were of course the usual ‘mochkils’ and questions of whether or not it would actually happen. But happen it did!
A few rainy Saturday’s ago in one of the larger classrooms at the lycee. In all we had about 25 participants from a variety of different class levels and areas of study. (High school students specialize in a certain subject in Morocco, like math or arts & sciences. Vaguely similar to the university system in the States.) Earlier that morning I tailored my advanced English lesson at the Dar Chebab to the spelling bee and was pleased to see many of the same students show up.
The competition was divided between group and individual contests. Hamdulilah, we had the support of a lot of English teachers so we were able to divide the tasks associated with hosting the bee, like timekeeping, scorekeeping, pronouncing, etc. In the end, the top 3 finishers from the individual contests will go onto compete at the district competition, and if they’re lucky, the national competition in Rabat in April. I was especially pleased that one of my most dedicated students at the Dar Chebab ended up being the overall winner.
For many volunteers service in the Peace Corps can be a mixture of ‘success’ and ‘failure.’ We’re constantly trying new ideas and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We take chances and learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we fail. I’m happy that the spelling bee worked out at as well as it did and I’m happy that together with the teachers we were able to provide the high school kids that chose to participate with an afternoon of fun, inspiration, and competition. I’m sure if you asked any of those kids what they did that Saturday, their replies would not be ‘walou.’