Paulina Cardona, a fourth-grader at Lido Elementary School in Long Beach, beat about 45 students statewide last month to be crowned state champion in the junior division of the New York State Spanish Spelling Bee sponsored by the State Education Department's Office of Bilingual Education.
To reach the state level Paulina finished first in the junior division of her district's Spanish spelling bee in March.
"I started crying, and so did my mom," Paulina, 10, said of winning the state bee. "I've been practicing for the state level since I won the district."
Paulina said her Columbian-born mother frequently tested her with a 150-word list supplied by the school and asked her to write a word 10 times if she misspelled it.
To win the state title, Paulina correctly spelled "murciélagos," the word for bats (the flying kind).
"Paulina has such poise and grace and really sets the tone for her classmates," said Principal Brenda Young. "This is really just the beginning for her."
Earlier this year, Paulina was one of 30 students nationwide to achieve a perfect score in the WordMasters Challenge, a contest in which students must solve complex word analogies.