The spotlight focused Thursday in downtown Raleigh on a group of students who don’t normally get to show off their academic competitiveness – visually impaired students.
Seventeen students came to the Church of the Good Shepherd to compete in the Eastern North Carolina Regional Braille Challenge. The participants are hoping to score high enough to be among the 50 students nationally who will be invited to California in June to compete in the 2017 National Braille Challenge sponsored by the non-profit Braille Institute.
“I really want to make it to California, and I’m just not going to give up until I make it,” said Evan Wilkerson, 10, a fourth-grade student at Durant Road Elementary School in Raleigh who competed in his fourth regional Braille Challenge.
Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. The National Braille Challenge is billed as the only reading and writing contest in Braille for school-age students who are legally blind.
Event organizers and parents say the Braille Challenge is important because of the lack of academic competitions available for visually impaired students.
Smita Saxena wanted to make sure her 10-year-old son, Samarth, had the chance to compete in his first Braille Challenge.
“I like him to participate in all the activities he can,” said Saxena, whose son is a fourth-grade student at Oak Grove Elementary School in Cary.
Keys were being furiously clacked Thursday on metal Braille writers as students from ages 7 to 18 were tested on their reading comprehension, spelling, proofreading, speed and accuracy.
More than 1,100 students are expected to compete in regional competitions this year in North America. Thursday’s participants will find out in May if they’re going to the national event.
The chance to socialize with other kids is also a major factor for holding the regional challenge, according to Michelle Egan, who coordinated Thursday’s event. Egan said she’s watched returning students grow in their confidence over the years.
“They can do just as much as any other student,” said Egan, a Braillist with the Wake County school system. “They just may have to do it in a different way.”
Mikayla Gephart, 17, a junior at Apex High School, enjoyed the opportunity Thursday to hang out with fellow visually impaired students. Gephart, who lives in Fuquay-Varina, has aspirations of becoming a teacher for the visually impaired.
“It’s so nice to be around other people who read Braille and use canes,” Gephart said.