Future Reflections Summer/Fall 1999, Vol. 18 No. 2

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Photo of Willa Patterson with MSB students Donald Jehling, Cory 

McMahon, and Rhonda Dycus.
Willa Patterson (center back) is a
"Braille Buddy" to MSB students
(left to right) Donald Jehling, Cory
McMahon, and Rhonda Dycus.

Missouri School for the Blind and NFB
Celebrate Braille

by Mary Dingus

Editor’s Note: The Missouri School for the Blind won $200 and the School for the Blind Outstanding Participation Award in the 1998-1999 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The following article demonstrates the appropriateness of that selection:

The students at the Missouri School for the Blind (MSB) who participated in the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest read more recreational Braille than ever before. From November 1 to February 1—three months—they read a grand total of 21,037 pages of Braille!

Thirty-three students at MSB participated in the contest this year, 12 more than last year. They ranged in age from 8 to 21. The students came not only from St. Louis, but also from all over Missouri and three foreign countries. Some of the students are proficient readers, and some are just learning to read, but what they all have in common is that they read Braille.

The Missouri School for the Blind has a team of staff people who worked closely with the students as they participated in the contest. Team leader Patti Schonlau (MSB Braille teacher), Mary Dingus (MSB Librarian), and Brian Forney (APH Librarian) encouraged the students to read Braille through a series of after-school parties held in the school library. Every other week during the contest, the students met to read Braille, talk about issues involving Braille, and enjoy treats.

Some of the activities at the after-school parties included singing Christmas carols using Braille song sheets, reading a poem together from a Braille sheet, and celebrating Louis Braille’s birthday. In honor of Louis Braille’s birthday, the students read (in Braille, of course) some information about him, which Mr. Forney had downloaded from the Internet and Mrs. Schonlau had converted into Braille.

At the last after-school party, two guest speakers came to talk to the students about how important Braille has been to them. Mike Keller, an MSB cabinet member who works with computers at Anheuser Busch and Jack Lenk, an MSB alumnus, shared their thoughts on Braille with the students. They talked about how important it is to them in their work and in their daily lives. The students had a lot of good questions to ask them about Braille and about being blind.

When the contest ended on February 1, 1999, the students had read 9,732 more pages than they did last year! On February 5, the students were treated to a "Celebration of Braille" party with members of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri.

The celebration began in the school library. MSB students were grouped with one or two NFB "Buddies" for fun games and activities involving Braille. One group led by Brent Ford played the card game "Go Fish" with Braille playing cards. Another group headed up by Betty Walker and Jane Lance, learned how to use a dymotape machine and used it to label the Braille calendars which all of the students had been given. A third group enjoyed a game of trying to match products with their slogans (reading the slogans in Braille, of course). Debbie Houchen was the NFB Buddy for this group.

Willa Patterson and Rhonda Dycus had their group in giggles reading jokes and riddles in Braille. Another group of students tackled unscrambling words related to school, using Braille sheets. Anna Schell and Cathy McCracken assisted them with this. NFB Buddy Susan Ford, who also coordinated the afternoon’s activities, worked with an eager group of students deciphering cryptograms in Braille. And Sue Null and Gail Bryant taught a final group of students to sing a new song using Braille song sheets. The kids were later treated to homemade cookies.

Following these activities, the group went to the school’s auditorium for a ceremony before the entire student body in which the contest participants were honored for their efforts in the contest. Everyone had a chance to be applauded, and the names of the contest winners were read off to everyone. The group that had learned the song then sang it for everyone in the auditorium.

On February 11, at another all-school assembly, the MSB Braille Readers Are Leaders students received print-Braille certificates signed by the school principal Tom Culliton and the school superintendent, Dr. Yvonne Howze. The students also received a cash prize of $2. The top readers from within the group of 31 students also received additional certificates and cash prizes of $10 for first place and $5 for second place. Students who had participated in the contest last year and this year were also eligible to win our MSB "Most Improved" cash prize of $10. The students also received a Braille certificate and cash prize from NFB of Missouri at this time. Later, at the school’s end of the year Awards Assembly students received their official certificates and ribbons from the contest sponsors, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. Two MSB students also won "Most Improved" certificates and cash prizes at the national level.

The students made wonderful progress, read a lot of Braille, and had a good time doing it! They all seem ready to participate in the contest again next year.

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