By DEVIN WEEKS
Three Kootenai County students who are blind or visually impaired shined during Idaho's 2019 Braille Challenge.
"This is my fourth time," said River City Middle School sixth-grader and top Braille student Emma Erckenbrack, starting to grin. "My fourth time winning."
Emma took first place for her age level, Ramsey Elementary second-grader Bradyn Sefick took first in his age group and Ramsey second-grader Emilia Paulding, whose birthday was the day of the recognition celebration at Ramsey, received a certificate of participation for stepping up to the challenge.
"It was good," Emilia said, admitting that the spelling test was the hardest part.
The students participated in the Braille Challenge at River City Middle School in mid-March, showcasing their Braille skills against kids from other regions across the state in spelling, reading comprehension and proofreading.
Older students, like Emma, had to read graphics and show their abilities for dictation using the raised-dot Braille reading system. For creating Braille documents, the students used a special Braille writer, similar to a typewriter but with just six keys.
The Braille Challenge is a national contest that motivates blind students to emphasize their study of Braille.
"Braille is important because it’s for blind people so that they know how to read,” Emma said. "If I couldn’t read, I would probably listen to audio books. I do, but I still read."
"It’s just like print. You need to start them ASAP,” said Tina Johnson, consulting teacher with the Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind. "They can’t see it so you put Braille labels on your doors and your chairs, just like with print. Can you learn Braille if you only practice one hour a week? No way.”
Melissa Adams, teacher of the visually impaired for the Coeur d'Alene School District, said she’s proud of the students for their efforts.
"I think they're amazing," she said.
Emma, the top Idaho Braille Challenge contestant, won a sweet Victor Stream, a handheld media player for the blind and visually impaired.
"This is a really good challenge," Emma said.