Future Reflections        Winter 2012

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Louder and Prouder: Two More States Added to the BELL Choir!

BELL students and staff cross an intersection.

by Jackie Otwell and Natalie Shaheen

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Vol. 54, No. 10, November 2011.

From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind works hard to promote the use of Braille among blind youth, and the BELL Program is one of its major initiatives. BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) is an intensive, two-week summer program for blind children between the ages of four and twelve, conducted by NFB affiliates in their home states across the country. In this article supervising teacher Jackie Otwell and program coordinator Natalie Shaheen focus on two states that sponsored BELL for the first time in 2011.

The NFB BELL Program (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) has done it again! The choir has grown! Colorado and North Carolina joined in the fun last summer. Veteran states participated again, and some programs even grew. Utah and Maryland held one program each, Texas and Virginia each held three programs, and Georgia held two. In all, eleven NFB BELL Programs were held in seven states.

North Carolina

The group has a chance to practice using their canes on grass.

Gary Ray, president of the NFB of North Carolina and coordinator of the North Carolina BELL program, saw the possibilities back in September of 2010. He wanted to bring this opportunity to children in North Carolina, but he was a bit apprehensive at the training seminar in February. He knew that the program was going to be a lot of work, and he wasn't quite sure he was cut out to work with kids. However, when he got back home and started tapping into his state's resources, he began to feel that his team was equipped for the task. Fellow Federationist Debbie Jackson and the Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped were there to help.

When the program was over, Gary proudly stated that he would be happy to do it again. He described his involvement with the BELL Program as one of the best experiences he has ever had with the National Federation of the Blind. He recognized that children are the future of the Federation; by helping them become as independent as possible and develop positive attitudes about blindness, Gary and the North Carolina BELL team were building the Federation. Gary was great with the kids. If it weren't for the BELL program, he might never have realized that he had such skills.

The students in North Carolina experienced great success during the BELL Program. After hearing the Captain Whozit skit, a story about a girl who uses her cane at camp after a surprise visit from a cane-tapping superhero, Emily used her cane at a swim meet for the first time. She even showed it off to a few friends. Eleven-year-old Wesley, who was new to Braille, blossomed over the two weeks and developed a can-do attitude about Braille and nonvisual techniques. Before BELL, he was only receiving thirty minutes of Braille instruction a week. All of the positive feedback and fun lessons--such as drawing with the Perkins Braillewriter, playing Braille Bingo, and making candy Braille--helped get Wesley pumped up.

To add to the fun, the North Carolina BELL Program took a field trip to the Marbles Kids Museum. Elijah experienced ice hockey on a simulation rink where participants wore socks instead of ice skates.


A teacher and student in the Virginia BELL program, Mike and Angela, hold a Hula Hoop while Mike teaches Angela about personal space.

Out west in Colorado, Michelle Chacon and Diane McGeorge used their expertise from coordinating other youth programs to make BELL a success. Michelle found the curriculum resources to be very helpful. The lessons provided a nice springboard for her own creativity. She felt that the conference calls that led up to the program provided a good deal of useful information. Conference calls gave Michelle and her team opportunities to learn how other states handle the logistics of field trips, lunches, and transportation. The NFB of Colorado team also found the conference calls to be good platforms for reporting progress on tasks and regrouping for the next wave of work.

The Colorado program drew on the talents of one of the affiliate's members, Ann Cunningham, to add art to the curriculum. For many years Ann has taught art to blind people, and she has created beautiful tactile artwork of her own. She provided students with opportunities to create pen-and-ink drawings, using a raised-line drawing board and clay. Braille labels were added to the students' pieces. The students held an art show and explained their pieces to one another. Sculptures included a princess, the solar system, and Lightning McQueen from the Cars movies. Not only did students walk away with improved Braille skills; they discovered that blindness needn't prevent a person from being artistic!

Interested in joining the Braille-teaching BELL Choir? We are looking for three new host states for the summer of 2012. If your affiliate is interested in enriching the lives of blind youth through increased access to Braille instruction, contact Natalie Shaheen at  [email protected]  or visit  <www.nfb.org/BELL>.

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