A student cadre of braille learners from FSDB converged on the Jacksonville Public Library on Thursday February 2, 2017 to demonstrate their skills in a special competition. As main organizer Sue Glaser puts it, braille is not easy and the North Florida Braille Regional Challenge is an annual opportunity for students to show off their hard-earned expertise.
Event organizers, including FSDB Braille Specialist Liz Wilcox, labor to make the event as charming and memorable as possible for student competitors. Each year the activities and decorations reflect a theme. This year was the 10th anniversary of the North Florida Regional Braille Challenge and the theme, “A Decade of Dots,” took visitors down memory lane. FSDB has competed in the event since 2015. After breakfast, while competitors were seated in the auditorium, Glaser briefly discussed past regional challenge themes.
2008: Inaugural Florida Regional Braille Challenge – Pep Bands, balloons, and pizza, oh my!
2009: The Need for Braille Speed – “Caution, High Speed Braille Readers”
2010: Braille Invasion – Ahoy, pirates in the library!
2011: Aloha Braille – Festive grass skirts and flower leis
2012: Braille Wars – Star Wars with a braille theme
2013: Red, White, and Braille – Patriotic theme
2014: Rock ‘n’ Braille – Rock ‘n’ roll, baby!
2015: The Wizarding World of Braille – Harry Potter and gang
2016: For the Love of Braille – Celebrating UEB code adoption
2017: A Decade of Dots – Recap of 10 years of regional challenge themes
A few special guests joined competitors in the auditorium. Michael Solomon of the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) made an appearance. He told students that JPL was dedicated to literacy in all its forms and was pleased to host the North Florida Braille Challenge, before wishing students best of luck. Library Board Member Lori Hershey told students it was an honor and privilege to be there. Hershey invoked education as limitless opportunities to empower and support each other.
Glaser took the stage again to motivate students before the competition began. She named the national California competitors in the audience, and gave accolades to FSDB student Savannah Lindberg for winning the Braille Superstar award.
Next, Glaser explained the process for jumping from regional to national competition. Only the top 10 competitors from each state go to nationals (which includes Canada). She gave a brief rundown of the planned festivities. Apart from the opportunity to compete nationally, students were in the running for incredible prizes in the form of gift cards. Nutritious snacks and drinks throughout the day were provided by FSDB. As usual, the event would draw to a close via a high energy Drum Circle. Finally, Glaser introduced competitors by groups and each student by name. After warm applause, they left the auditorium inspired and ready.
While students took seats in competition rooms stocked with braillewriters, parent workshops commenced in the cafeteria. The presentation included some difficult statistics as a springboard. 70% of blind individuals will not find gainful employment in adulthood. However, of the 30% who gain employment, 80% are braille readers. This drove home the point that parents should do everything they can to help their children in the quest to be competent braille readers. Presenters emphasized that parents and kids should start this imperative as soon as possible. Braille fluency is not something that can be immediately acquired at age 17 before heading to the work force. Presenters also addressed the question—is braille still relevant in age of technology? Answer: Absolutely! If students only listen to audio books, for example, they don’t learn how to spell words they hear. Research suggests that braille instruction for beginner braille readers should be at least 60 minutes per day. Next, parents discussed the question: “How can you increase and support braille use at home?” Some ideas: let the kids teach parents how to braille, put braille labels on things around the house, do grocery lists in braille, write thank you notes using braille, keep braille books in the car and ask children to read while in transit, read braille books to grandparents, and write braille letters to pen pals or blind organizations.
After a tasty pizza, salad, and pasta luncheon, student competitors returned to their rooms and the afternoon parent workshop commenced. Activities included making Valentines Day cards with colorful tactile materials provided, “Mindfold” blindfolds to practice skills in reading braille (swiping fingers across cardstock sheets), a writing center to practice on braillewriters, and a braille display center with iPads and discussion on how the laptops can reinforce literacy.
During the competition, an industrious scoring team–including several FSDB current and former staff members–was tucked away in the library for the duration of the event. FSDB students placed in every category!
FSDB student winners were as follows:
Apprentice Group (Grades 1-3)
2nd – Jason McDaniel
Freshman Group (Grades 3-4)
1st – Alden Porter
3rd – Ryleigh Blades
4th – David Hunt
Sophomore Group (Grades 5-6)
1st – Madison Wardell
2nd – Savannah Lindberg
3rd – Taylore Sherman
4th – Breanna Raisor
Junior Varsity Group (Grades 7-9)
1st Yassir Bohorquez
2nd Brianna Cruz
3rd Courtney Hawkins
4th Christopher Roberts-Cole
Varsity Group (Grades 10-12)
1st – Trent Ferguson
2nd – Anna Albury
3rd – Perrii Lee
4th – Meliza Lorenzo
Rookies–All Grade Levels
1st – Brianna Lawson
2nd – Z’Leah Liburd
3rd – Bradlee Kerr
4th – Camren Lee
The Drum Circle capped off a fast-paced, vibrant day of activities. Hats off to Sue Glaser for another well-orchestrated event. Liz Wilcox and Joy Carriger did a banner job with the extensive FSDB coordination efforts. FSDB scorers April Wallace, Elisha Zuaro, Kathy Michaelson, and Nancy Berger lent their considerable expertise to the competition. Event organizers also thank academics, dormitory, transportation, and food services for supporting the event in countless ways.
By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.