By Curt Yeomans
Tanaeya McCoy is not one to take spelling lightly.
The Lovejoy Middle School seventh-grader said Tuesday she stays up most nights until 10 p.m., or 11 p.m., studying the origins, and histories of words.
During spelling bees, she asks for the language of origin of the words she is asked to spell, then she counts the syllables on her fingers before attempting to spell the word.
The practice has taken McCoy far this year. She won the Georgia Association of Educators' District 5 Spelling Bee Saturday, and will be the only Clayton County student competing at the state spelling bee on March 20, at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
The spellings bees are local versions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held May 24-30, in Washington D.C.
The winning word spelled correctly by McCoy in the district bee was "G-E-N-I-A-L."
"It was certainly a surprise," McCoy said, "because some of the words were hard. But I'm really excited, because I really want to go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C."
At the district-level competition, McCoy beat three other Clayton County spellers, as well as those from Bremen City Schools, Carrollton City Schools, Griffin-Spalding Schools, and school systems in Carroll, Coweta, Fayette, Haralson, Henry, Polk and Rockdale counties.
She made it to the district-level through a pattern that was uncommon for Clayton County spellers: She tied for fourth place at the school system's spelling bee in January, and won a spell off Feb. 5 against Tara Elementary School fourth-grader Brittany Chopra.
"It's [spelling] actually very important to me, because I want to make my grandparents proud," McCoy said. "When my grandfather [Mozell McCoy] was in school, he did spelling bees as well."
Mozell McCoy now helps his granddaughter prepare for spelling bees. The main area grandfather and granddaughter work on is her nervousness during competitions. At the school system spelling bee, Tanaeya McCoy often held her head in frustration, and breathed heavily while trying to spell words.
"He told me he doesn't want to hear me hyperventilate anymore, because, if I hear myself breathing into the microphone, it might make me more nervous," she said. "He told me I should step back from the microphone, think about the syllables, and the etymology of the word. Then I should try to spell the word ... That's what I did at the district competition, and it worked."
Lora Woods, the media specialist at Lovejoy Middle School, and one of the educators who trains McCoy for spelling bees, said her pupil spends an hour after school each day reviewing the languages of origin for words in the dictionary.
"Tanaeya knows what she knows because she studies a lot," Woods said. "Tanaeya already came to me with a profound knowledge of word etymology, so all I did was fine tune that knowledge, but she does most of the work."
Shavawn Simmons, the literacy coach at Lovejoy, said she is constantly recruiting teachers from around the school to tutor McCoy and train her for spelling bees.
"It's a village," Simmons said.