SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Union Catholic's Tiffany Acosta and Gillian Caldas recently earned prestigious awards at the 35th Annual Orlando Saa Foreign Language Poetry Recitation Contest at William Paterson University. 

In a competition that featured 53 schools from all over New Jersey, Acosta, a sophomore from Fanwood, placed third in the Native Spanish category, and Caldas, a freshman from Hillside, earned Honorable Mention in the Beginner French category. The competitors are judged on poise, intonation, and pronunciation.   

"I was surprised,'' Caldas said of her Honorable Mention award.  "When I decided to take French this year I knew it would be a challenge because I had never taken a language so challenging. I used to take Spanish for like eight years, and I'm fluent in Portuguese. But I wanted to try something different, and I'm glad I did.''     

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Acosta grew up in a Spanish speaking home.

"Both my parents speak Spanish, so I learned both English and Spanish at the same time,'' said Acosta. "Speaking Spanish is something my parents brought to me at a young age and it's been a gift.'' 

Acosta was honored to earn an award.   

"I was in the competition last year but didn't place, but to place this year is such an honor,'' said Acosta. "It was a really fun experience. I like presenting.'' 

Acosta said there is some pressure that came with the competition.  

"Every kid in the native room spoke fluent Spanish, so walking in there and knowing that everyone is just as good or maybe better at speaking the language is a very difficult thing to know.      

Caldas thanked her French teacher at UC, Mrs. Kamila Ciringione, for her rapid development. 

"It all came from Madame,'' said Caldas. "She taught me everything.''

Acosta said her Spanish teacher at UC, Mrs. Catarina Portillo, and her overall education at Union Catholic prepared her very well for the poetry competition.  

"Of course the great teaching of Senorita has helped me so much,'' said Acosta. "And ss a whole, Union Catholic has prepared us some much because in every class they are pushing you to be better than you were the day before. I feel that even in English class, it helps you analyze what you are reading and makes you think about it and reflect on it, and that really helps when you presenting and trying to tell a story to other people. So I feel that it all ties in together.''  

Mrs. Ciringione said winning awards is an added bonus.  

"We can only choose one student per level per language and we like to go to this poetry competition so we can represent Union Catholic and put the school on the map,'' said Mrs. Ciringione. "And if our students win it's an added bonus. It's nice that among 53 schools we send eight students and two of our students won. It's a very special honor for us. We work very hard with our students, and it's all about having fun and and enjoying the experience.''   

Mrs. Portillo said having students so eager to learn and participate is very exciting.    

"We get excited from the simple fact that our students want to do this,'' said Mrs. Portillo. "Our students are very excited about this and want to be a part of something like this. For language teachers, that alone is a gift.''

Mrs. Portillo is very impressed by Acosta's skill level and work ethic.

"Tiffany's grasp of the language is extremely advanced,'' said Mrs. Portillo. "She's a very dedicated student and she combines that with her ability to speak the language beautifully. She has a gift and can easily present anything to anyone. I've seen Tiffany grow as a student and a young lady. She so dedicated and determined, and is such a go-getter.''