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Tara Elementary speller vying for state title

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Tara Elementary School fifth-grader, Brittany Chopra, knew she had won the Georgia Association of Educators District 5 Spelling Bee at Mundy's Mill Middle School, on Feb. 27, as soon as the word caller announced the final word was "azimuth."

After she finished spelling the word, the youth, who also won the Clayton County Spelling Bee in January, did not even need to wait for the judges to confirm her victory. Chopra, 11, was just that confident in her ability to spell this particular word.

"I had studied it so many times, that I knew it," she said.

As a district spelling champion, Chopra now advances to the state Spelling Bee, which will be held Friday, March 19 at 11 a.m., at the Georgia State University Student Center, which is located at 44 Courtland Street, in Atlanta.

The winner of the state Spelling Bee will be Georgia's lone representative at the Scripps 2010 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May, according to the GAE Spelling Bee rules book.

"It's scary," Chopra said. "It's a lot of pressure."

At the District 5 Spelling Bee, Chopra bested three other students from Clayton County, as well as pupils from county-wide school systems in Carroll, Coweta, Fayette, Spalding, Haralson, Henry, Polk and Rockdale counties, and school systems in the cities of Bremen and Carrollton.

The District 5 runner-up is Jaire Duncan, a student at Memorial Middle School in Rockdale County, according to District 5 Spelling Bee Coordinator Mariah Buchanan. The winners, and runners-up, from each of the state's nine districts, and the winner and runner-up from the Georgia Independent School Association Spelling Bee, advance to the state Spelling Bee, according to the GAE Spelling Bee rules book.

Because of her spelling success, Chopra has become a celebrity at Tara Elementary School. The sight of her county and district championship trophies on Thursday made several pupils at the school gasp in awe.

After she won the Clayton County Spelling Bee, the school had a "Brittany Chopra Day," where she got to choose a reward for the other students at the school, according to Tara Elementary School Principal Cynthia Dickerson. "Since we're a uniform-dress school, she chose a 'no-uniform day' as the reward," Dickerson said.

The principal said another "Brittany Chopra Day" will be held to celebrate the district championship. "She has really made a mark here," Dickerson said. "This whole school has been behind her."

Chopra is the second Clayton County Public Schools student, in as many years, to win the district competition and advance to the state-level Spelling Bee. Last year, former Lovejoy Middle School student, Tanaeya McCoy, was the district winner, and made it to the top-five spellers group at the state Spelling Bee before being eliminated.

Interestingly, Chopra and McCoy had to battle each other in a county-level spell-off last year, to see who would get Clayton County's fourth and final spot in the 2009 District 5 Spelling Bee. Now Chopra is looking to best McCoy's performance at last year's state Spelling Bee.

"I want to win it so I can go to nationals, and make my mom happy," said Chopra, whose mother, Madhuri Chopra, is a first-grade teacher at Tara Elementary School.

"She's been studying for this spelling bee since last year," Dickerson said. "She has studied every day for the last year. I know she studied every day during the summer."

The young speller said she has borrowed an unabridged version of the dictionary from her school's library to study for the state Spelling Bee. She said she practices spelling for an hour each day with her mother.

"My mom's been pulling a lot of words off the Internet that I don't know," Brittany Chopra said. "She's giving me German words, Italian words, Old English words, and all kinds of other words, to spell."

The youngster also said she picks up new words to learn how to spell from just about anything she reads, from class reading assignments, to atlases.

Madhuri Chopra said her daughter's spelling prowess is a result of the youth's drive to do well with words. "She's got a very good system set up," the mother said. "Any time she comes across a word that she has a hard time spelling, she makes a list of those words. When she masters all of those words, she starts making a new list of words to learn."

Dickerson said Brittany Chopra is a proficient reader, too. The principal said the youth has won three of the last four championships in the school's reading contest, in which students compete to see who can read the most books in a single school year.

"It's a 100-book challenge, and I remember one year she read 469 books -- in one school year -- so she far exceeds any challenge put before her," Dickerson said.