It took 11 rounds Friday to determine the newest Rio Rancho Public Schools spelling bee champion, when Mountain View Middle School’s Graciela Rodriguez emerged from an original field of 35 students to correctly spell “rhodium.”

Graciela Rodriguez smiles after correctly spelling “rhodium” and becoming the 2020 spelling champion of Rio Rancho Public Schools. It’s the third year in a row a Mountain View Middle School student has won the bee, as Eliana Juarez had won it the past two years. Photo by Gary Herron.

This year’s bee, contested at Vista Grande Elementary, was the 26th in the district’s history and included, for the first time, spelling bee champions from The ASK Academy and Sandoval Academy of Bilingual Education. A crowd of about 100, mostly parents and siblings of the contestants and school principals, were on hand for the nearly three-hour spelldown.

After the first three rounds, each scored for correct answers, the field was whittled down to 23 with the most points. Five rounds later, the field was down to its “final four”: Graciela, Gabriella Butler (Rio Rancho Elementary), Laurynn McKee (MVMS) and Sathya Martin (Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary).

All four missed their words in the ninth round, earning a reprieve into the next round, when only Graciela spelled her word (“echinacea,” an herb thought to have medicinal qualities) correctly, and then claimed the title by nailing “rhodium,” an elemental metal.

The remaining trio misspelled their words in the next two rounds, but Sathya became the runner-up after getting “syllabus.” That left Gabriella and Laurynn battling for the position of alternate, if neither Graciela nor Sathya can make it to the state bee in Albuquerque in March.

No problem: Gabriella didn’t vegetate on her way to spelling “rutabaga,” while Lauryn erred on “sommelier,” a wine steward.

After congratulating the winners and then departing for a scheduled meeting in Santa Fe, RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland remarked, “The words were so challenging.”

Indeed, after Graciela emerged as the champion and the remaining three youngsters had trouble getting any words spelled correctly, the degree of difficulty was lessened a bit, from five-syllable words to three- and four-syllable words.


Rio Rancho Spelling Bee winners, 1995-2020

Year               Name                         School

1995               Jeff Bennett                  Lincoln Middle School

1996               Ashley Clow                  Puesta del Sol Elementary

1997               Rebekka Jones             Mountain View Middle School

1998               Graig Garman              Lincoln Middle School

1999               Sarah Liberatore         Lincoln Middle School

2000               Kristin Tafoya            Mountain View Middle School

2001               Maggie Purtell            Eagle Ridge Middle School

2002               Shiv Patel                    Lincoln Middle School

2003               Zephra Doerr              Rio Rancho Mid-High

2004               Zita Fletcher                St. Thomas Aquinas

2005               Matt Tafoya                Mountain View Middle School

2006               Satyam Patel              Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary

2007               Taylor DesChenes    St. Thomas Aquinas

2008               Bryce Peever             Eagle Ridge Middle School

2009               Logan Meredith       Lincoln Middle School

2010               Benjamin Fogg         Eagle Ridge Middle School

2011               Noah Baca                  St. Thomas Aquinas

2012               Holly Gallegos           Mountain View Middle School

2013               Ayshia Valdez           Enchanted Hills Elementary

2014               Nicole Olson             Colinas del Norte Elementary

2015               Alvin Toby                 St. Thomas Aquinas

2016               Adrian De la Peña   Enchanted Hills Elementary

2017               Adrian De la Peña   Enchanted Hills Elementary

2018               Eliana Juarez           Mountain View Middle School

2019               Eliana Juarez           Mountain View Middle School

2020             Graciela Rodriguez   Mountain View Middle School