East Meadow Hosts Annual Braille Challenge

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The East Meadow School District hosted the 11th annual Long Island Regional Braille Challenge for students of Braille on Feb. 3 at W.T. Clarke High School. 

The Braille Challenge is an academic competition developed by the Braille Institute to motivate school-aged visually impaired or blind children to continue their study of Braille. 

During the event’s opening ceremony, members of the W.T. Clarke High School band performed as the participants gathered in the cafeteria to the cheers and applause of Board of Education members, central administrators, parents and community members. 

Several key administrators at East Meadow welcomed the students, their families and the event’s volunteers, offering words of encouragement and gratitude.

 “I want to congratulate the students who are participating in the challenge this morning and encourage them to give it their all,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kenneth A. Card Jr.  

Clarke High School Principal Timothy Voels acknowledged the commitment and generosity of parents and volunteers, noting, “Clarke High School has been a host of the Braille Challenge for 11 years, and it’s a thrill every year to see students come in eager to participate.” He also thanked the parents and volunteers for their ongoing and selfless support.  

Patrice Dobies, the district’s director of special education and pupil personnel services, expressed her gratitude to all who helped coordinate the annual event, including Braille Challenge Coordinator Petra Tarrant, and commended the participants for their determination. “It takes very special people to get up on a Saturday morning to challenge themselves,” she said. “I hope that you always continue to challenge yourselves and are never afraid to do so.” 

The ceremony led into three interactive workshops for participants. In the first, they demonstrated their proficiency in reading, writing and comprehending Braille. Participants also played dominoes and created valentines using cookie cutters, metallic paper and stickers. In the second workshop, they played Goalball with representatives from Camp Abilities Long Island, who taught them techniques for diving to block the ball and how to roll the ball properly to score. Participants also received a hockey demonstration from New York Metro Blind Hockey. During the third activity, students met and played with members of the Long Island Bombers beep baseball team. These players demonstrated their version of the sport that uses beeping baseballs and bases. The young students ran the bases and located the baseball from the sound of its buzzing. 

Along with these workshops, parents and students were able to visit tables with representatives from Camp Abilities, New York Metro Blind Hockey, the New York State Commission for the Blind, and Helen Keller Services for the Blind to learn more about services and opportunities for the visually impaired.  

At the closing ceremony, the participants received Braille Institute medallions, certificates of recognition and goody bags. They also attended a lunch with their families, provided courtesy of the East Meadow Special Education PTA. 

Among the challenge participants were Bowling Green Elementary School third-grader Kayla Ochtera and fourth-grader Matthew Palmeri, and Woodland Middle School eighth-grader Robbie Stahl. 

The regional event is the first step toward the national competition, which will be held in June at the Braille Institute’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California. Students from across the nation are in the process of completing preliminary testing in the hopes of qualifying among the top-scoring 60 contestants. Those top scorers will advance to nationals to represent their state as they compete against the best Braille students from across the United States and Canada.