Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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Announcing the 2008-2009 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest

by Jennifer Dunnam

Editor’s Note: Each November Braille-reading students across the country have the chance to compete for prizes, win recognition, and enhance their reading skills by participating in the National Federation of the Blind Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Here are the details of this year’s contest:

The changes we made to the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest last year were resoundingly successful--therefore we are doing it all again this year. Contest awards include the expense-paid trip to the NFB national convention, many cash prizes, T-shirts, and more. We've even brought back the most improved category. Read on for all the details you'll need to know about the 2008-2009 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.

The contest is two months long, beginning November 1 and ending January 4—which happens to be Louis Braille's 200th birthday. Reading during the school winter break is strongly encouraged, and it's a great time to build up the total number of pages read.

Every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. Students who do not register in advance but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 23 deadline will still be eligible for all awards, recognition ribbons, and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.

Again this year twelve of the top contestants will win an seven-day, six-night trip (July 3 to July 9) for themselves and a parent (or an adult chaperone) to the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit, Michigan. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses for seven days, beginning with the parents' seminar, continuing through the banquet, and ending on the day after the final convention session. (No substitution in place of the convention trip.) The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldn’t 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 the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled.

Trip not your thing? It's not required that you compete for the trip to be considered for the other prizes. One offer that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes. The top three contestants in each of six categories will win a $50 cash prize. The six categories are grades K-1; 2-3; 4-5; 6-8 (middle school); 9-12 (high school); and, back again this year, most improved (those reading the greatest percentage more pages this year than they did last year). The most improved prizes will be awarded to students not winning another award this year or previously, so more children will have a chance to be recognized, competing against their own personal best.

Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and ungraded students. We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not 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 for which qualified students may choose to compete.

Braille Leaders 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 of 500 pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination. 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 student’s literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.

2009 Jennifer Baker Awards: These awards were 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 based on 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 student’s 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-three 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 Braille essay competition will be supervised by Jennifer Dunnam, the manager of Braille programs in 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.

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. We will also 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.

The contest is cosponsored by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. We will continue to work with state affiliates, as we have for the past twenty-six 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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