Future Reflections Special Issue1989, Vol. 8 No. 4

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A Report On The 1988-89 National Federation of the Blind "BRAILLE READERS ARE LEADERS" Contest

by Nadine Jacobson

[PICTURE] Noel Romey of Arizona had placed third in his catagory in the 1987-88 contest. But he wasn't satisfied with third; he was determined to win first place in 1988-89-and he did! Noel (right) attended the 1989 NFB convention with his mother Jacalyn and his sister Kelsea.
[PICTURE] Winner James Konechne delighted everyone at the Parents of Blind Children Division Annual Meeting with his reading of the poem, "Hands." He is shown here with his parents, Mike and Estelle Konechne.

"I am a part of all that I have met." Those words, attributed to William Wordsworth, came to mind as I reflected upon the results of this year's "Braille Readers are Leaders" National Children's Braille Reading Contest. All of the students who entered the contest learned about new aspects of the world that became part of them. The younger children read about people, families, animals, machinery and how it works, and the list goes on and on. The older children read a variety of fiction and nonfiction which is difficult to describe. The variety of material reflects all of the differing individual preferences of each student. Some read fairy tales and science fiction and learned about imaginary worlds. Others read about computer technology and its effects on our world. Some read about the wide range of jobs and careers that adults choose, and dreamed about their possible future.

This is what the "Braille Readers are Leaders" contest is all about. Each book that is read changes in some small way the student who reads it. As students are enriched by these books, their dreams of the future are always expanding.

Letters came in from all over the country about the contest. Parents and teachers throughout the United States told story after story about the students with whom they worked. One teacher wrote about how at the beginning of the contest, the girl she was teaching was at first not too excited about the idea of being in this contest. The girl didn't like reading very much because she thought it was too hard. But as she began to read, and added new pages to her list every week, she began to enjoy not only the accomplishment of reaching her goals, but also began to actually enjoy what she was reading. This teacher said that by the end of the contest this child's whole concept of reading and learning had improved, as well as her belief in herself and what she could accomplish.

This story is not unique. Many letters with similar scenarios came in. One letter was from a father who rose at 5 a.m. to listen to his son read aloud. He said that even when he did not fully comprehend all that he heard at that hour of the morning, he listened. The father also said that he and his son became closer as a result of those early morning reading sessions.

These stories are heartwarming and show what we as blind adults have known. Braille is not only a viable reading method, but for many people it is one of the tools which contributes to lifelong success. Literacy for sighted children is being addressed as one of the nation's top priorities. This is because the ability to read and think clearly is essential to success. This is true not only for sighted children and youth, but also for those who are blind. There is a significant difference between listening to a tape or watching television and actually reading a book. Students who entered the contest learned about this difference.

Those of us in the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille would like to express our sincere appreciation to all of the parents, teachers, and librarians out there who encourage students to achieve all that they can, not only in this contest, but in life in general. There are more and more teachers and parents of blind children who believe in the importance of basic Braille reading. There are also more people believing that blind children and youth can be successful and that their education really makes a difference.

Also, to the students who entered the contest we say, all readers are winners. You are important to us, and we care about you and all that you accomplish. And if you didn't place in the top three (or even if you did) of your category last year, try again this year!

It was particularly exciting to have three of the winners of the 1988-89 contest at this year's National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Denver, Colorado. James Konechne, Noel Romey, and Kim Wright attended the convention along with their families. The future of blind people looks bright with such fine representatives of the younger generation coming onto the scene.

Following is a list of this year's winners. You will notice that we have two first-place winners in the Kindergarten through first grade category. It would be tempting to blame it on a computer error, but it was a human misunderstanding regarding the grade-level, and therefore the contest category, of a student. Since the error was discovered after awards were made, we decided the only fair thing to do was recognize both students.

We salute all our contestants, and give special congratulations to the top winners in each category. You have made one more step toward equality.

Kindergarten and First Grade

First Place: James Konechne, grade 1;
Platte, South Dakota; 2,358 pages.

First Place: Jennifer Espinoza, grade 1; Albuquerque,
New Mexico; 1,910 pages.

Second Place: Kristen Witucki, grade 1;
Pine Hill, New Jersey; 1,517 pages.

Third Place: Seth Leblond, grade 1;
Portland, Maine; 1,356 pages.

Second through Fourth Grade

First Place: Noel Romey, grade 3; Phoenix,
Arizona; 5,556 pages.

Second Place: Melissa Crockett, grade 4;
LAFB, Virginia; 4,712 pages.

Third Place: Jaime Zadzilka, grade 2;
Parma Heights, Ohio; 4,153 pages.

Fifth through Eighth Grade

First Place: Jennifer Baker, grade 5;
Rockville, Maryland; 7,176 pages.

Second Place: Casey Cannon, grade 5;
Ellington, New York; 4,870 pages.

Third Place: Kira Larkin, grade 6;
Schenectady, New York; 3,844 pages.

Ninth through Twelfth Grade

First Place: Nancy Williams, grade 11;
Fredonia, Kentucky; 4,763 pages.

Second Place: Michelle Hyliard, grade 11;
Concord, Michigan; 4,682 pages.

Third Place: Kristie Szedlak, grade 12;
Laingsburg, Michigan; 1,822 pages.

Print to Braille

First Place: Lisamaria Martinez, grade 2;
Oceanside, California; 2,081 pages.

Second Place: Kim Wright, grade 12;
Bastrop, Louisiana; 1,010 pages.

Third Place: Denise Waits, grade 7;
Columbus, Ohio; 1,000 pages.

Most Improved Readers

1. Rebecca Hart, grade 4; Springfield, Virginia.
Pages this year: 3,013. Pages last year: 744. Difference: 2,269.

2. Shannon Caldwell, grade 6; Roarkville, Kentucky.
Pages this year: 2,039. Pages last year: 229. Difference: 1,810.

3. Christina Reed, grade 5; Montgomery, Indiana.
Pages this year: 1,692. Pages last year: 581. Difference: 1,111.

4. Robert Miller, grade 8; Detroit, Michigan.
Pages this year: 2,250. Pages last year: 1,148. Difference: 1,102.

5. Monique Melton, grade 1; Portsmouth, Virginia.
Pages this year: 1,012. Pages last year: 210. Difference: 802.

The 1989-90 contest began November 1, 1989, and will end February 1, 1990. This is a change over previous contests. In the past the contest began December 1 and ended March 1 of the following year. This is the only major change in the contest. As usual, students may enter the contest any time up to the deadline.

We encourage parents, teachers, librarians, and the students who have participated in the contest to share with us any ideas on how we can make the contest better. We would especially like to hear from the students. For example, if you have read books that you particularly enjoy and would like to recommend to other contestants, let us know.

To receive entry forms or to obtain further information about the contest, please contact:

Mrs. Nadine Jacobson
5613 Oliver Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55419
You may also contact:
Barbara Cheadle
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

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