by Mary Jo Thorpe-Hartle and Jennifer Dunnam
From the Editor: Each October we report on plans for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest that begins November 1. We hope that this article will remind parents and teachers to go to the NFB Website and download the entry form for their students. Meet the Blind Month is also an excellent time for all NFB members to spread the word about the contest and the importance of Braille.
The 2009 contest is better than ever, so read carefully what Mary Jo Thorpe-Hartle and Jennifer Dunham have to say. Mary Jo is director of education and Jennifer is manager of Braille programs at the NFB Jernigan Institute. This is what they say:
Braille is creating a lot of buzz this year. The National Federation of the Blind has been working hard to promote Braille literacy through the sale of Louis Braille commemorative coins. As most of you know, coin sale profits will be used to provide more quality programs to promote the use of Braille. One successful Braille literacy program already in action is the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Below you will find an overview of the K-12 contest. This year’s contest has largely the same elements as in previous years, but plans are in the works for some exciting new additions to an already great program--more details later this fall.
This year we are also pleased to announce that, in addition to the contest for students in grades K to twelve, we will hold a contest for Braille-reading adults. Please continue to watch NFB publications and listservs for more details as they unfold on this exciting new endeavor. Adults over eighteen are encouraged to participate. Whether you’re a beginner or have been a Braille reader your whole life, we’ll have a category for you.
The new adult component will mirror much of the original contest. The contests will be two months long, beginning November 1 and ending January 4—Louis Braille's birthday. Get the latest information on all aspects of the contests at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>. The information below applies to the original youth contest.
Every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. Students who do not register in advance but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 22 deadline will still be eligible for all awards, recognition ribbons, and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.
Again this year twelve of the top contestants will win an eight-day, seven-night trip for themselves and a parent (or an adult chaperone) to the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses, beginning with the parents' seminar, and ending on the day after the banquet/adjournment. (No substitution in place of the convention trip.) The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldn’t think of a better way to reward these bright, competitive young Braille readers from all over the country than to offer them the opportunity to join the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled.
Trip not your thing? It's not required that a student compete for the trip to be considered for the other prizes. One offer that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes. The top three contestants in each of six categories will win a $50 cash prize. The six categories are grades K-1; 2-3; 4-5; 6-8 (middle school); 9-12 (high school); and most improved (those reading the greatest percentage more pages this year than they did last year). The most improved prizes will be awarded to students not winning another award this year or previously, so more children will have a chance to be recognized, competing against their own personal best.
Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and ungraded students. We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not put restrictions on the grade level of the materials the contestant reads. For example, we expect that a high school student who reads at a third-grade level will read third-grade-level material or even below for the competition and therefore, with motivation and diligence, could beat out an average or even better than average student who reads at grade level. Students with reading delays may also submit information to be considered for the Jennifer Baker Award, one of three special awards for which qualified students may choose to compete.
Braille Leaders Community Service Award: This award most closely reflects the ultimate mission of the contest. Braille literacy enhances the ability of blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through service to others. For example, a blind teen may use Braille to read to lonely residents in a nursing home or use his or her Braille skills to organize and conduct a food drive for a school project. The opportunities for service, if you are literate, are endless. The goal of this award is to encourage contestants who have developed good Braille skills to reach out into the community and use those skills for the good of others.
This award is restricted to students in grades six through twelve. To be considered for this award, the student must read a minimum of 500 pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination. Up to five students will be selected for this award.
Twin Vision® Awards for Dual Print-and-Braille Readers or Print-to-Braille Readers: Funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the award is for elementary students who have learned and used both print and Braille from an early age and also for students who were print readers and have switched to, or are in the process of switching to, Braille. No fewer than one student and no more than five will be selected for this award. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
2009 Jennifer Baker Awards: These awards were named after Jennifer Baker, a young woman from Maryland who overcame many severe additional disabilities to become Braille literate and was a frequent national winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. Jennifer was an avid reader who traveled the world in her mind with the help of Amelia Bedelia and other characters from her beloved Braille storybooks. She died of kidney failure shortly before her twenty-first birthday. This award is given in her memory to no fewer than one student and no more than five based on a letter of nomination with information documenting the obstacles the student has overcome to become Braille literate. Examples of those eligible for this award might be students with cognitive or physical disabilities, English-as-a-second-language learners, students with brain injuries, or students who have been otherwise educationally disadvantaged. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual who is intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must submit a letter of nomination. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
If you have been counting the number of possible winners, you know that we offer a minimum of eighteen and a maximum of thirty-three cash awards, which means that not every contestant will win a trip. If more than twelve of the winners have elected to compete for the trip, then a run-off Braille essay competition will be conducted. Preference will be given to contestants who have not won a trip in previous years.