Braille battlers Francis Howell School District

Braille battlers

Visually challenged students from the Francis Howell School District were victorious in the regional Braille Challenge 

By Brett Auten

Four students from Francis Howell School District refused to be hamstrung by their limitations. The students, who are blind or visually impaired, put together a masterful performance in the Braille Challenge regional competition held the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. 

The Braille Challenge is the only academic competition of its kind in North America for students who are blind or visually impaired. Any blind or visually impaired student from first grade through high school who can read and write braille is eligible to participate in the Braille Challenge. 

Tyler Groves, a sixth grader at Saeger Middle and Luke McKeon, a fourth grader at Warren Elementary, both came away with a first-place finish. Francis Howell Central sophomore Claire Wright and Warren fourth grader Olivia Wright both received Honorable Mention.

The contestants were divided into five categories and tested on fundamental braille skills such as reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs. The contests were judged by volunteer teachers of the visually impaired and scored locally by volunteer transcribers, based on national guidelines.

“I enjoyed the fun things that they had to do there, like at lunch they had basketball, a treadmill, and an endless rock wall,” Groves said. “I was really proud that I won and I want to compete again next year.”

The students didn’t do highly-specific training for the contest, instead relied on the day-to-day instruction and habits that have accumulated throughout the year.

“The most difficult for me was the reading comprehension because I am not a fast reader and it was challenging to finish in the allowed time,” Groves said. “I read and write in braille every day when I do my school work. I didn’t do so hot last year so this year I worked on using more contractions which is what gave me a lower score last year.”

Claire Wright enjoyed the competition and spending time with friends, but it wasn’t all fun and games. 

“The tactile graphics activity was very challenging,” Wright said. “We had to identify and interpret different graphics and charts, and then answer questions about it. It takes practice to get good at it.”

Laura Gierer is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for the Francis Howell School District.

“The competition really showcases this specific way of reading and writing,” Gierer said. “It’s nice for them to be recognized for their skills and the hard work. All-in-all, it’s a really nice day at the Missouri School of the Blind.”

The Braille Institute developed the Braille Challenge to motivate students to practice and hone their braille literacy skills, which are essential to future academic and employment success.

Francis Howell School District’s Director of Alternative Learning, Dr. Will Vanderpool, called the Braille Challenge an exciting event for their students to participate in. 

“It celebrates their talents and the years of hard work to learn an alternative system for reading and writing that supports students with visual impairments,” Vanderpool said. “The event highlights those accomplishments through competition and the ability to excel with this skill.”

CUTLINE: Photos by Kate Edmonson 

Cover-Braille1 Luke McKeon, a fourth grader at Warren Elementary School, came away with a first-place finish in the Braille Challenge regional competition held the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. 

Cover-Braille2 Tyler Groves, a sixth grader at Saeger Middle School, came away with a first-place finish in the Braille Challenge regional competition held the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. 

Cover-Braille3 Photo courtesy Francis Howell School District Four students from Francis Howell School District were awarded certificates for their achievements at the Braille Challenge regional competition at a recent school board meeting.