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East Meadow School District hosts 13th Braille challenge

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The East Meadow School District hosted its 13th Long Island Regional Braille Challenge on Feb. 1. Created by the Braille Institute of America, the event served to motivate students in grades 1-12 to practice their Braille literacy skills.

Participants 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 morning began with Petra Tarrant, the Braille Challenge coordinator and visually impaired educator, welcoming students and their families. She introduced Kaleigh Brendle, a 16-year-old student from New Jersey, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Brendle is a frequent competitor in the Braille Challenge and has already qualified for the national competition in June.

Representatives from the district welcomed participants, including Dave Casamento, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Patrick Pizzo, assistant superintendent for business and finance, Stacy Breslin, the principal of W.T. Clarke Middle School, Patrice Dobies, the director of special education and pupil personnel services, and Allyson Benowitz, board of education vice president.

“The East Meadow School District prides itself on hosting, accepting and educating people of all abilities and we are proud to do so,” Casamento said.

Following introductions, the day of challenges began and students were divided into groups based on skill level. In addition to the academic tasks, students also participated in interactive workshops with the Long Island Bombers Beep Baseball team and Third Eye Insight – Fitness for the Blind.

In addition, representatives from a number of organizations attended the event to provide valuable information to students and their families. Organizations included Abilities of Long Island, Helen Keller Services, National Federation of the Blind BELL Academy, New York State Commission for the Blind, and VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The day concluded with a closing award ceremony recognizing all who competed in the regional challenge. All are now eligible to qualify for the national competition, which will consist of the top 50 students with the highest scores from the regional competitions. The national competition will be held this June in Los Angeles, Calif.

East Meadow was the first public school district to host a regional Braille Challenge and Patrice Dobies is proud of the annual turnout. “These students are to be commended, and I want to thank the parents for fostering a desire to learn in them,” she said.

—Brian Stieglitz