Future Reflections          Convention Report 2007

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Braille Readers Are Leaders 2007-2008

by Barbara Cheadle

If you saw the announcement in the last issue of Future Reflections, you will know that we have made some major changes in our annual NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. It all started with conversations among NOPBC and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) leaders, Dr. Maurer, and the NFB Jernigan Institute education department. We wanted to streamline the contest, update it, make it more efficient, get the prizes out in a more timely fashion, and do so without diminishing the program in any way. Furthermore, we wanted to find a way to get the top winners and their parents and teachers more actively involved in the NFB. We think we have accomplished all this, and we hope that all our members will be as excited about the changes as we are. The full details of the contest are on our NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>, but here is an overview.

Letís begin with what has not changed. The purpose is, as it always has been, to promote the joy of reading for pleasure, to promote a pride in Braille as a viable literacy medium equal to print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the development of Braille literacy skills. Eligibility for the contest has not changed. All blind or visually impaired Braille-reading students enrolled in an educational program for students from grades kindergarten through twelfth grade in the USA or Canada are eligible to compete in the contest. And competition is still based on reading the largest number of Braille pages of leisure reading material during the contest period as certified by the childís teacher, parent, or librarian.

So the heart and soul of the contest remains intact. Some of the other details also remain the same. The Braille Community Service Award is still in place, and so are the regular grade categories for competition. And we still give special recognition to residential or day schools for the blind that enroll a significant percentage of their students in the contest and in other ways promote Braille literacy and the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. All participants will get certificates, and different-colored print-Braille ribbons will be awarded to contestants who read 500, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, and 12,000 pages.

So what has changed? Letís begin with a basic: the time period. The contest is now two months, not three. It begins, as it always has, on November 1, but now it ends on Louis Brailleís birthdayóJanuary 4. We believe that the shorter time will eventually encourage more parents and teachers to enter students in the contest. It is a tremendous amount of work to keep track of books and materials read, but of course the more kids read, the better they get. Our goal is to strike the best balance between making the contest long enough to make a difference, but short enough that teachers and parents do not feel overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to document activity for the contest.

Another change is that this year every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. Thatís right, we have added a registration process. Teachers and parents have often asked if we could get the certificates and prizes to the students sooner. It currently takes twelve weeks to process the entry forms and get certificates, ribbons, and prizes to the contestants. To get a faster turnaround time, we have instituted an option for early registration. And, to provide extra incentive, we guarantee a contest T-shirt for every contestant who registers for the contest between October 1 and December 1. Students who do not register in advance, but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 21 deadline, will still be eligible for all awards and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.

Now letís talk about prizes. The biggest and most exciting change of all is that 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 2008 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses for eight days, beginning with the parents seminar, continuing through the banquet, and ending on the final day of the convention session. The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldnít 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 in the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled.

Not everyone may elect to compete for the trip, and, while there is no substitute for the trip, one thing that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes, and we still offer those. The top three contestants in each of five categories will win a $50 cash prize. The five categories are grades K-1; 2-3, 4-5, 6-8 (middle school); and 9-12 (high school). Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and un-graded students.

We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not (and never have) 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 that qualified students may choose to compete for.

Two of these three awards replace categories we no longer have. The Jennifer Baker Award replaces the Most Improved Award, and the Twin Vision® Award replaces the Print-to-Braille category. The third award, the Braille Community Service Award, was instituted about three years ago, and is just beginning to fulfill what we hope to accomplish through it. Although it is not new, we are including a brief description of it along with the other two new awards.

Braille 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 number of pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination from a knowledgeable adult. Up to five students will be selected for this award, and all winners of this award will automatically win a trip to the convention.

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 studentís literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.

2008 Jennifer Baker Awards. 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 who submit 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-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 studentís 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 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 essay competition will be supervised by Jennifer Dunnam, a longtime leader in the Minnesota affiliate and the manager of Braille programs under the education department of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Jennifer will also be managing the day-to-day operations of registration, processing entry forms, sending out certificates and prizes, and collaborating with NOPBC and NAPUB to judge the contest and to evaluate the changes we put in place this year.

This brings us back to one very important component that has not changed. The contest, you notice, is still co-sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Those divisions will continue to work with our national office and state affiliates, as they have for the past twenty-five years, to promote and build this program with pride, energy, and all of the creative and financial resources available to us.

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