Future Reflections         Fall 2008

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Making Braille the Key to Literacy and Fun--The 2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Report

by Becca Cordell

Editor’s Note: Becca Cordell is one of the newer members on the staff support team at the NFB Jernigan Institute. She is not, however, entirely new to blindness. Her family and the Polansky family--Ed, Susan, and their blind son Jason--have attended the same church in Thurmont, Maryland, for many years. Susan Polansky is the president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children division, and Jason has been a participant in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for many years. It’s a small world, indeed. Here is Becca’s report about the contest:

Flying to the moon. Navigating the perilous seas to find a forgotten but precious treasure. Solving a crime and capturing a crazy crook to become a town hero. These are just some of the adventures in which a child may find themselves when reading a good book. While reading is entertaining, it is also an essential key to unlocking the door to a successful future. With 347 students from 39 states participating in the 2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, it seems safe to say that blind students from across the nation are preparing themselves for the future--and having a blast doing it.

The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest is designed 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. While the twenty-fifth annual contest was held in this same spirit, it also saw several changes in the rules and awards. One of the changes included the opportunity for early registration. This allowed participants to receive their awards and certificates in a more timely fashion and it guaranteed all early applicants a contest T-shirt.

This year’s contest also included the addition of two new awards. The first was the Jennifer Baker Award, which was given to delayed Braille readers, students with additional disabilities, or students who overcame other obstacles to achieve Braille literacy. The other award was the Twin Vision® Award, which was instituted for dual print-Braille readers.

Another notable modification was the contest reduction in length from three to two months. The contest continued to have the same start date of November 1, but this year concluded on January 4--Louis Braille’s birthday. With a total of 417,608 pages read this year, the results show that participants took the shorter time frame as a challenge because they read over 1,000 more pages a day!

A final significant change was the addition of a new grand prize. Contest winners were granted the opportunity to receive a trip for themselves and a parent to the 2008 National Federation of the Blind national convention in Dallas, Texas. This year, twelve of the best and brightest Braille readers from around the nation won this coveted award. Congratulations to winners Anna Walker (PA), Gabriella Welsh (WI), Cricket Xioa Jiu Bidleman (HI), MarChe’ Daughtry (VA), Daniel Dintzner (MA), Joshua Pearson (MA), Mary Church (CA), Alexis Tamayo (AZ), Jordan Richardson (MN), Ashleah Chamberlain (IA), Sumpa Akhter (OK), and Rachna Keshwani (NE).

Anna Walker was one of our most spirited competitors this year reading the most pages in her grade category (K-1), earning a Twin Vision® Award, and being one of the lucky twelve who received a trip to the national convention. For Anna’s achievements, she was recognized in her local newspaper, The Herald-Mail. The article notes Anna’s recognition in the Pennsylvania General Assembly by both legislators and the National Federation of the Blind. Anna’s favorite book is The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown and is one of the books that contributed to the 5,209 pages she read. In a very sincere and direct way, Anna explained the importance of Braille literacy, “If you don’t read, you won’t get a job.” Anna, however, is not worried about getting a job--she has big plans for her future. The article reveals Anna’s plans to “be a Braille teacher, the president of the United States, a veterinarian, a ‘science girl,’ a ‘jazz girl,’ a ballerina, a nurse, a doctor and a dance teacher, in that order.” With Anna’s enthusiasm and clear Braille skills, it seems that she has an excellent chance of accomplishing any and all of the things on her to-do list.

The 2008-2009 contest is already in full swing with participants from across the country again reading furiously trying to attain the contest’s honors. It’s not too late to join the fun and to be eligible for the big prizes. For more information about this year’s contest, please visit <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>. Good luck to all of this year’s competitors.

2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Winners

Grades K-1

*Anna Walker, 5,209. PA
Ahbee Orton, 2,758. TX
Maura Loberg, 2,026. NE

Grades 2-3

*Gabriella Welsh, 7,501. WI
Gabrielle Nicholas, 4,412. MO
*Cricket Xioa Jiu Bidleman, 4,317. HI

Grades 4-5

*MarChe’ Daughtry, 10,487. VA
Merlyn Hileman, 6,464. CA
Lucas Leiby, 6,237. PA

Grades 6-8

John Carnemolla, 16,697. CT
Paige Tuttle, 7,847. KS
Minh Ha, 5,184. MA

Grades 9-12

*Daniel Dintzner, 25,111. MA


*Joshua Pearson, MA
*John Evans, NY
*Mary Church, CA
*Alexis Tamayo, AZ
*Jordan Richardson, MN


Djeinaba Mbodji, NY
Yesenia Carpio, AZ
Kevin McArthur, GA
*Ashleah Chamberlain, IA
*Sumpa Akhter, OK


*Rachna Keshwani, NE
Katharina Kroblen, AZ
Madeline Link, PA
Tom Brown, PA
Anna Walker, PA
Jonathan Wong, 10,508. CA
Zackarrah Erickson, 4,460. MI

*Winners of a trip to the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas.


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