The Braille Challenge hosted by The Braille Institute is an exciting competition of braille skills! The braille challenge encourages students to hone their braille skills in the hopes of placing first in their level. There are five levels: Apprentice (1st & 2nd), Freshman (3rd & 4th), Sophomore (5th & 6th), Junior Varsity (7th, 8th & 9th) and Varsity (10th, 11th & 12th). All levels are scored on Proofreading and Reading Comprehension. The Apprentice and Freshman levels are scored on Spelling. The Sophomore, Junior Varsity and Varsity are scored on Speed and Accuracy and Charts & Graphs.
For several years I have had the amazing privilege of volunteering at the Georgia Regional Braille Challenge. My first year I served as a proctor for the Apprentice Level and every year since have participated in the scoring room.
At the regional level anyone who is learning braille can participate no matter their level, but to reach the national level you must compete with contracted braille at your grade level. The regional level is also fun with themes. Last year Georgia Regional had a super hero theme, camaraderie, opening and closing ceremonies and activities for parents during the competition.
National Braille Challenge
The top 10 scores in each level from across the nation are invited to compete at the national level in Los Angeles! I have the great joy of working with a National Braille Challenge first place winner from 2015, Christopher Abel. He again was a top scorer at the regional level in 2016 and went to compete at the national level. I was able, through the generosity of the Cobb County area Lions Clubs, to attend the National Competition in LA with my student.
The national competition is so exciting. We were able to stay at the Hilton in Universal City near Los Angeles, California! Those students competing and their friends and family got a discount to stay at this very fancy hotel where the Awards Banquet would be held.
The night before the competition you could meet and greet students, parents and teachers from all over the nation. I also met many students and families at the pool the night before! I taught one precious young lady how to do a handstand in the pool that night!
The National Competition itself was on Saturday at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. Shuttle buses picked us up from our hotel in the morning and transported us to the Braille Institute. After checking in, we had a continental breakfast before heading into the gymnasium for the opening ceremonies.
The Opening Ceremonies were so much fun and filled with much excitement. The different levels marched in together to the music from a local marching band. Once the competitors were seated in the front on risers, each was announced with fun facts about them, like what their hobbies, dreams and aspirations are.
During the competition, the friends, families and teachers had instructional activities they could attend, such as learning about new assistive technology for the blind. I had the great privilege to attend an educator round table discussion during lunch.
Once the students were finished with the competition, we all headed back to the hotel to allow the scorers to get to work and to get ready for the Awards Banquet that evening.
The Awards Banquet was also filled with excitement and anticipation. It was a formal event and everyone arrived in their finest attire. Before entering they had a red carpet with a photographer for a star studded photograph with friends and family. Each year they have a theme for the banquet and the theme for 2016 was Fiesta.
Surrounding the banquet hall were boards that were created for each student competing. The boards had photographs of the student that had been made tactile. They also included bios that had been brailled of each student.
Once seated, we were served a delicious meal. The Awards Banquet was MC'd by a local news anchor. They also announced the 2016 National Braille Institute Teacher of the Year, Keith Christian, and we heard a speech from him. Check out information on Keith at the Braille Institute website.
This is the point in the evening which every student had been anticipating: the announcement of the winners. Once the winners are announced, the banquet is over, but the celebration continues with photographs of all the winners.
I was so blessed to be able to attend last year and as Christopher Abel won first place for his division at the Georgia Regional Braille Challenge 2017 and won the prize for the highest scorer overall, I'm sure he'll be back to the national level again this year. I hope I can have the chance to accompany him again this year!
Regional competitions are in full swing. To find out where your local competition is and when the deadlines are for competing, check out the Regional Sites and to download materials to practice check out the Sample Contests page.