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Students Showcase Braille Skills in National Competition

In District 49 ensuring every learner has a firm foundation in reading is essential. For most students that includes learning how to write letters, matching those letters with sounds, and recognizing sight words. For others, it's about mastering a pattern of dots with the sense of touch that brings reading to life.

Cameron Hames, second-grader at SRES, practices math skills during a break at Braille Challenge.

D49 serves nearly 20 students across the district who are blind or have significantly low vision, and on Feb. 19, two of these students had the opportunity to showcase their braille skills at Braille Challenge 2021. 

Braille Challenge is a nationwide event that brings together students from across the United States to allow them to compete in braille, while also celebrating those who learn with braille. Students who are blind or visually impaired in grades 1 – 12, and can read and write braille are invited to participate. The D49 participants met at the Creekside Success Center and joined students from across the country virtually.

One D49 student eager to compete was Cameron Hames, a second-grader from Springs Ranch Elementary School. "Cameron was born blind, but took to learning braille really fast ... so fast he left me in the dust when I was learning alongside him," said Amanda Hames, his mother.

Cameron learns in Mrs. Bostwick's second-grade classroom where he uses a special machine, a braillewriter, to type both numbers and letters in braille. He does his daily assignments on the braillewriter, and Lori Mattick, a teacher of the visually impaired, transcribes it into English for Mrs. Bostwick to grade.

Cameron used the same type of machine to compete at Braille Challenge and test his skills in three categories: spelling, proofreading and reading comprehension. "The spelling part … that was really easy," he shared. Contests are proctored by D49 teachers of the visually impaired and then sent to Braille Institute where they are scored based on national guidelines. 

"Learning braille can be slower in the beginning, but by third grade, the goal is to have students performing at grade level," shared Mattick.

Cameron is a prime example. He demonstrated his reading skills at the competition and was proud to share he has authored a book about Fireman Sam, a popular children's cartoon character. "The book has 12 pages," said Cameron. "There's even a Part 1 and a Part 2."

At times finding books and content to teach blind students is challenging. Teachers of the visually impaired can reach out to the Colorado Instructional Materials Center when certain textbooks or stories are needed in braille, but when they are not available, D49 Braillist Lori Wilson steps in. "We create a lot of our own materials in District 49, including math worksheets," said Mattick. "A lot of times people forget braille includes math too … think about how we use scratch marks in solving math."

The Braille Challenge is an annual event sponsored by Braille Institute, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to positively transform the lives of those with vision loss. This is the first-year students from D49 have participated in the event, which is the only academic competition in North America for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Lori Wilson, D49 braillist, shows a story she translated into braille for learners in D49. Cameron Hames, second-grader at SRES, reads braille during the Braille Challenge nationwide contest. Lori Mattick, teacher of the visually impaired, watches as Cameron Hames demonstrates the braillewriter.

Amy Matisek