Noah Davis, 16, looks forward every year to the Western North Carolina Braille Challenge, a skills competition for visually impaired students.
He enjoys comparing his abilities to others on the left side of the state, meeting with old friends and making new ones. And there’s one other benefit to attending the annual event.
“It’s a day off from school, so that’s always nice, except for the make-up work,” said Noah, a sophomore in Central Cabarrus High’s STEM program.
Noah was one of three Cabarrus County students who participated in the March 10 Braille Challenge at Camp Dogwood, a North Carolina Lions retreat in Catawba County for the blind and visually impaired. The others were J.N. Fries STEM Magnet seventh-grader Hope Bovard and Jacob Chamness, a first-grader at Harrisburg Elementary.
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As of March 24, the three students were waiting to find out if their scores from the Western N.C. regional event were good enough to qualify each of them for the national competition.
It will be held in June in Los Angeles, location of The National Braille Institute, which sponsors and governs the National Braille Challenge. It is a highly competitive contest, and no Cabarrus County student has ever qualified for nationals.
Noah, Hope and Jacob are the only Braille reading students in Cabarrus County schools, according to Terri Bunn, the district’s teacher for the visually impaired and modified textbook coordinator.
All three are mainstreamed into their classes at their respective schools and receive services through the school system. They perform well academically, which, for Noah and Hope, is supported by their enrollment in STEM programs.
Noah and Hope each has braillist to transcribe class assignments into Braille. They also use a BrailleNote, a specialized laptop used in Braille transcription.
Jacob receives guidance throughout his school day from Bunn’s assistant, Lisa Bovard, who is Hope’s mother. Jacob also is hearing-impaired in one ear but has taught himself how to play piano, guitar and drums.
Jacob has made progress in his ability to read Braille in the past few months. Until then, he was only able to type Braille, says his mother, Jessica Chamness.
Twenty-four students in western North Carolina participated in regional competition. The competition is divided into age groups. Each group is scored in four areas of reading Braille.
For middle and high school students, the competition includes tests in speed and accuracy, charts and graphs, proofreading and reading comprehension. The elementary level competition replaces the charts and graphs section with spelling.
All four sections are timed. Students read through as much content as possible in the 20 minutes allowed and aim to answer questions accurately.
Noah has been attending the regional Braille Challenge since fourth grade. He says there were 10 contestants in his age group of ninth- and 10-graders this year, which was six more than in 2014.
Noah enjoys music and has an interest in radio broadcasting. He has a large collection of vintage digital recordings, radios and tape recorders and vinyl records.
Hope, who also competes in equestrian vaulting, has attended two of the past three regional Braille competitions. She missed last year because her vision was worsening.
Hope was born with familial exudative vitreoretinopathy, a degenerative eye disease. Last summer, she was issued a guide dog, a 2-year old Burmese mountain dog/Labrador mix named Hibou.
She is looking forward to finding out her results and possibly traveling to California for nationals. “That would actually be nice,” said Hope. “I was trying to aim for that. It’s rare to do it but it’s worth trying for.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.