Future Reflections         Summer 2010

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by Natalie Shaheen

Ashleah Chamberlain proudly holding up her winner's plaqueTwenty-seven years ago the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest was established by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). The contest aimed to promote the joy of reading for pleasure, to enhance pride in Braille as a literacy medium equal to print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the development of Braille skills. Contestants reported the number of Braille pages they read during a designated period. The winners were the students who read the highest number of pages within each age/grade category.

Today the contest pursues its original goals with an ever-increasing level of enthusiasm. This year participation in the K-12 contest reached an all-time high, with over six hundred students registered! The contest featured several new elements this year, including a Leader Board, team competition, and a contest for adult Braille readers.

Throughout the contest period (November 1, 2009, to January 4, 2010) participants could update their reading logs electronically on the Website at www.nfb.org/bral as often as they wished. At four secret dates throughout the contest, judges pulled the reading log data and the top three readers in each category in both the K-12 and adult contests were posted on the Leader Board. Participants whose names appeared on the Leader Board received an additional prize at the culmination of the contest. The Leader Board gave participants a means of tracking their competitors' progress and gauging their own performance against the page totals of their peers. Participants stated that they "picked up the pace" when they missed the Leader Board by only a few pages or lost the first-place slot to another contestant after holding it for a month.

As most athletes attest, the camaraderie that forms among team members is a powerful motivator. In this year's Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, participants could compete as members of a team or as individuals. Teams consisted of as few as two and as many as five Braille readers. Teams competed for the honored title Braille Readers Are Leaders Team of the Year. The award was given to the team that demonstrated the best combination of team spirit and pages read. Teams could demonstrate team spirit in a number of ways, from the use of social media (Facebook and Twitter) to announcing team progress at NFB chapter meetings. The means of demonstrating team spirit was only limited by the participants' imagination.

Each of the teams that entered the contest showed great pride in its Braille reading skills. When it came time to determine a winner for the Team of the Year award in the K-12 contest, two teams stood out as excellent examples of teamwork--Team Believe to Achieve and the Braille Powerpuffs. As a result the award was given to both teams. Honorable mention was awarded to six K-12 teams: Team SMED, The Blind Mud Pie, The Fantastic 5, Metcalf Stars, NBCF Team, and Newark Braille Team.

For the first time adult Braille readers had the opportunity to join in the fun of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Adults competed in categories according to their Braille reading rate, measured in words per minute (WPM). Beginners read 80 or fewer wpm, intermediate readers read 80-160 wpm, advanced readers read 160-220 wpm, and advanced plus read over 221 wpm. In addition, sighted parents and teachers competed in a separate category. Well over one hundred adults registered for the contest.

Adult contestants, like their younger counterparts, had the opportunity to compete on teams. The Team of the Year Award in the adult contest went to The ABLE Group. The High Desert Dots team earned honorable mention in the contest.

Congratulations to everyone who competed in this year's contest. Keep burning through those pages; you don't want your fingers to get rusty over the summer! To view a complete listing of the Category and Special Awards winners in both the K-12 and adult Braille Readers Are Leaders Contests, visit our Website at <www.nfb.org/bral>.

It's never too early to start thinking about next year's contest. Who will be on your team? Is your state going to have a Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest kick-off or wrap-up party? If you need ideas about how to get a team started or how to encourage Braille readers in your state to get involved, please contact Natalie Shaheen at (410) 659-9314, extension 2293, or nshaheen@nfb.org.

Team Spotlight

Noah Mondor updates his contest log, using a BraillerThe Believe to Achieve Team consisted of three elementary-school students: Noah Mondor (third grade, IN), Sierra Nicole Stewart (fifth grade, IN), and Gabriella Welsh (fifth grade, WI). Since the members do not reside in the same city, this team used a Facebook page to communicate with and encourage each other. The team acquired over two hundred fans through its Facebook page. In its essay the team noted, "If each 'fan' tells one person, who tells another person, who tells another person about the Braille Literacy crisis, we could be on our way to solving the problem."

The Braille Powerpuffs consisted of five students: Ashleah Chamberlain (fourth grade, VA), Alayna Hall (second grade, IN), Ellie Hardwick (fifth grade, VA), Mausam Metha (fourth grade, VA), and Shyanne Racey (fifth grade, VA). This group of young ladies used a Braille Readers Are Leaders Log to stay in touch. They attend various schools in various cities, so this was a great way to keep the team connected. Members wrote each other notes in the log, which they passed from one member to the next. Teammates also spent time reading to each other over the phone. In addition, the girls pulled in a high school student who is new to Braille to be their coach!

The ABLE (Access to Braille Literacy for Everyone) Group was formed in 2008 by members of the Blackhawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. Already dedicated to improving their Braille skills, the members unanimously decided to enter the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest as a team. The five ABLE members--Robert Gardner (Beginner, IL), Lois Montgomery (Beginner, IL), Jana Hergert (Beginner, IL), Jean Rauschenbach (Beginner, MN), and Patrick Olson (Beginner, IL)--all learned Braille as adults. The team communicated via e-mail and met once a week during the contest period to read to each other. The team announced its progress at chapter meetings and encouraged other members of the chapter to dedicate time to Braille reading.

Below is the complete list of Braille Readers Are Leaders winners in the K-12 competition, arranged by category. The list includes the winner's name, state, and the number of Braille pages read. An asterisk (*) beside a winner's name indicates that he/she also won a trip to the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas.

In addition to the winners in the grade categories, which are determined by the number of pages read, this list includes Braille Readers Are Leaders winners in four other categories. Winners of the Community Service Awards used their Braille skills to help them perform a service to the community. Winners of the Jennifer Baker Awards met unusual challenges in their effort to learn Braille. These winners faced such challenges as language barriers or disabilities in addition to blindness. Winners in the Most Improved category are the contestants who show the greatest improvement in Braille skills over the past year. Those who won in the Twin Vision category are dual-media learners, students who use both print and Braille.

Grades K-1

* Christopher Abel, GA, 2,025
Kendra Holloway, GA, 1,583
* Caiden Hooks, OH, 824

Grades 2-3

* Alayna Hall, IN, 11,515
* Christian Adams, IN, 9,499
* Gabriella Orton, TX, 7,372

Grades 4-5

Annamarie Aqua, KY, 7,640
Gabriella Welsh, WI, 7,627
Gabrielle Nicholas, MT, 7,445

Grades 6-8

Lucas Leiby, PA, 9,172
* Merlyn Hileman, CA, 8,562
Roosevelt Thermitus, FL, 5,679

Grades 9-12

Bobby Townsend, KY, 12,531
Jonathan Wong, CA, 10,601
* Nicole White, NV 9,302

Community Service Awards

* Shelby A. Craig, 8th Grade, SC
* Omar Tzic, 7th Grade, NJ
* Jonathan Welscott, 7th Grade, MI
* Nicole White, 12th Grade, NV

Jennifer Baker Awards

* Kailey Christian, 4th Grade, VA
Caitlyn Higgins, 7th Grade, NM
Callie Marshall, 8th Grade, TX
Gabrielle Nicholas, 4th Grade, MT
* Rosanna Scott, 3rd Grade, AR

Most Improved Awards

Annamarie Aqua, 5th Grade, KY
Bobby Townsend, 10th Grade, KY
* Christian Adams, 2nd Grade, IN

Twin Vision Awards

Jazmin Castillo, 4th Grade, NM
Viren Desai, 2nd Grade, IL
Shelby Farley, 8th Grade, TX
Alexander Gamino, 3rd Grade, IL
Austin Shepherd, 4th Grade, MI

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