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100717 Spelling Bee1

Edda Bevilaqua and team member Daniel Slutske react after realizing she misspelled a word during the 24th annual Central Coast Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge in 2017.

The Central Coast Literacy Council is hoping community members will put their spelling skills to the test during the 25th annual Adult Spelling Bee, which aims to raise community awareness about literacy issues in Santa Barbara County.

The Spelling Bee — which will be held at Elks Lodge at 10 a.m. Oct. 27 — raises money for the Central Coast Literacy Council through sponsors and helps support the nonprofit’s literacy programs. Since the event began 25 years ago, the Santa Maria Times has been its primary sponsor.

In 2017-18, the center served 133 people in Santa Maria and 59 in Lompoc. “We make it fun while we’re raising money for our organization,” said Laura Arteaga, executive director of the Central Coast Literacy Council.

In the days prior to the Spelling Bee, the organization is looking to sign up as many sponsors and spellers as they can for the event, Arteaga said. Sponsorship packages range from $95 to $1,000, depending on the advertising package organizers put together.

For spellers themselves, there is no charge or entry fee. “We want to encourage everyone from the community to come and be a speller," Arteaga said. "We have folks coming that are as young as high school students. We have people from high schools all the way up to retired folks.”

In prior years, the Spelling Bee has attracted around 50 to 60 participants, competing against each other in anywhere from 22 to 25 different teams. Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Superior Court Judge Jed Beebe will serve as event judges while Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino will serve as master of ceremonies.

The winning team will receive free pizza for a year from Papa John’s, which is one of the event’s sponsors. Other sponsors include Pacific Premier Bank, Su Mesa and the Rotary Club of Santa Maria.

One of the main purposes of the Spelling Bee is to raise community awareness of the literacy need that exists in the county, Arteaga said, adding that based on our last census, there are 76,000 people in Santa Barbara County who are functionally illiterate, with around half of those residing in the northern part of the county. Functional illiteracy refers to reading and writing skills that are below the proficiency needed to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.

Arteaga said one in four children in the United States grows up to be functionally illiterate. “We have adults going through the educational system and either they had an unidentified disability or, perhaps, an identified disability and just went through the system without learning how to read.”

Cindy Schneider, who works as a tutor for the nonprofit and serves on the council’s Spelling Bee committee, said she encourages all Santa Marians to participate as spellers, either on their own or as a two-person team. “This’ll be my second year to be speller and it’s just fun,” Schneider said. “I got over being afraid to spell in front of others, and the other spellers were so encouraging — we’d be rooting each other on.”

Nancy Rodriguez, board president of the literacy council, said there is a sense of unity among all the participants. “Even though they’re competing against each other, they’re all rooting each other on,” she said. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere for people to come out and support literacy.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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