2021 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge

Preparing for the Braille Challenge and Life: A Brief Interview with Kaleigh Brendle

Kaleigh sitting at a table reading a tactile graph during the 2020 NJ Regional Braille Challenge
We are so happy to have long-time Braille Challenge national finalist, Kaleigh Brendle, competing at this year’s New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge. Kaleigh is a high school senior who has volunteered as a Junior Scorer and guest speaker at previous NJ Regional Braille Challenge events.  I caught up with Kaleigh to get some of her thoughts on her final year taking the Braille Challenge, advice for other students taking the Challenge, and her future plans.  Here’s the transcript of that conversation: 
 
Monique: How does it feel to be taking your final Braille Challenge?
Kaleigh: The word “bittersweet” cannot do the feeling justice. I feel such gratitude that I have been able to participate in the Braille Challenge for the past 11 years, and I am extremely excited to participate in my 12th regional Challenge this Saturday.  At the same time, the reality hits me at times when I practice that this is my last year. I’ve been competing since I was six years old, and the idea of that all coming to an end this year, especially during such a trying time, is something I struggle with.
However, the skills that I have developed from years of rigorous Braille practice, the friends that I have made along the way, and the memories from both preliminary and national challenges will remain with me forever.

Monique: What advice would you like to offer to current and future Braille Challenge contestants?
Kaleigh: I would offer two pieces of advice to any present or future Braille Challenge contestants, the first being to practice with the contest materials provided. They are your best resource. How do you study for the SAT or ACT? You take practice exams so that you grow accustomed to the type of questions you will face, and you time yourself to get used to the pace. The same strategy can be applied here. Utilizing this strategy permitted me to achieve first place at the national level as a Junior Varsity, and to earn second place four other times at the finals. My second strategy is quite simple, but very critical—read in your spare time. In a world in which blind students are being steered away from Braille, many skills are being lost as a result, these including spelling. Read a book, article, or other literary work that captivates and challenges you, so that you do not lose the imperative skill of Braille proficiency. Doing so will also prepare you for the Braille Challenge.
 
Monique: This has been a tough year for students. What are you looking forward to after high school graduation?
Kaleigh: I am looking forward to the exposition of a brand-new chapter of my life—my collegiate academic career. I cannot wait to begin taking classes that will prepare me for my specific career path, which is concentrated in law and advocacy for those with disabilities.  I am also extremely excited at the prospect of living the college experience—participating in extracurricular activities relevant to my specific interests, making new friends, and taking steps toward both independence and success.
 
 

Congratulations to All of the Amazing 2020 Contestants!

Highlights from the 2019 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge

 Congratulations to all the contestants and the 1st place winners in each age category! 

Apprentice

Maria Moreno*
Pooja Dass

Freshman

Robyn Brown*
Ana Centeno

Sophomore

Antonio Spano*
CJ Caiola
Robby Dahill

*1st place winner

The first annual NJ Regional Braille Challenge was a great success. Each of the contestants worked hard, completing between 3-4 braille reading and writing contest areas over the course of the day. They also enjoyed socializing and making new friends! The special day capped off with a closing ceremony full of great music, happy people, and inspiring words for young braille readers and writers! It was a celebration to remember!! Special guests included musicians, Mr. RAY and John Ferdinand, Linda Melendez from the NJ Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and Kristen Witucki, educator and author.  We were also fortunate to have Kaleigh Brendle, a 1st Place winner at the 2018 National Braille Challenge, to serve as a Junior Scorer. Kaleigh also gave an amazing, impromptu motivational speech to the Braille Challenge contestants.

Reflections and Tips from Kaleigh Brendle, National Braille Challenge Winner

Kaleigh Brendle smiling.

Monique interviewed Kaleigh Brendle, a 15-year-old high school student from New Jersey. Kaleigh is a seasoned Braille Challenge contestant who won 1st place at the JV Level of the 2018 National Braille Challenge. In this interview, Kaleigh talks about her experiences with preparing for and taking the Braille Challenge. She also provides some great tips and encouragement for kids who will be taking the upcoming NJ Regional Braille Challenge.

Monique:   How long have you been doing the Braille Challenge?

Kaleigh:      Ten years. I started when I was six years old.

Monique:   And was last year your first year winning at Nationals?

Kaleigh:      It was my first time winning 1stplace. But I placed in the top 4 multiple years.

Monique:  Besides the encouragement that you must have received from your parents and TVI, what motivated you to do the Braille Challenge?

Kaleigh:      I always loved reading braille, and I liked that the Braille Challenge gave me an opportunity to be around and socialize with other braille readers.

Monique:   How has the Braille Challenge helped you to become such a good braille reader/writer? 

Kaleigh: Thank you! Honestly, the day of the challenge itself is not as important for that as all the preparation for the Braille Challenge. About a month before the Challenge I spend a few hours every weekend preparing. I try to do a practice test every day.

Monique: It sounds like you really have to practice intensively to be able to reach and do well at the national level.

Kaleigh:  I know some kids who do really well and make it to the National Competition who don’t do as much practice as I do.  I guess everyone has their own way of preparing that suits their needs. I am the kind of person that likes to plan and be prepared for whatever may happen during the Challenge. So, I feel like I need to spend a lot of time preparing. This past year I actually did not get to practice as much.

Monique:   What are some strategies you have learned over the years that may be helpful to other students taking the Braille Challenge?

Kaleigh:    To prepare for the challenge, use the Braille Challenge practice tests provided on the Braille Institute website. There are old tests from previous years for all categories. You can have your TVI download and emboss them for you. 

Also, time your practice tests so you can get comfortable with the times given for each challenge contest.

During the Braille Challenge, it’s important to have extra braillers handy! We have to type so much and so fast, so sometimes braille writers get jammed or otherwise malfunction. I went through four different braillers at the last National Challenge!

Don’t compare the material you finish with that of others, because it’s not an accurate reflection of your performance compared to theirs. They may have finished more, but that doesn’t mean what they got to is accurate. Everyone’s working pace is different.

(Additional, contest-specific tips are listed at the end of the interview transcript.)

Monique:   What is the most challenging contest for you?

Kaleigh: Probably Reading Comprehension, and maybe Charts and Graphs would be a close second.  A lot of people may think the Speed and Accuracy contest is the hardest, but it’s actually my favorite. It feels like a sport! I love how it’s like a race against the clock.

Monique:   What message do you want to give students who may be taking the Challenge for the first time?

Kaleigh:      Have fun with it! Scores are just a number on the page. They don’t actually encapsulate your braille ability. Just fact that you are taking the Braille Challenge is an accomplishment and recognition of the fact that you already are a capable braille reader. Use the opportunity to make new friends. Get telephone numbers of the new friends that you make so you can keep in touch. Some of my best friends are kids that I met though the National Braille Challenge. The choral group that I started was formed at Nationals where I connected with different kids all around the country who also had an interest in music.The Braille Challenge is something special and unique for visually impaired people, and it is something that sighted people don’t have!

A Few More Contest Tips from Kaleigh:

Spelling:

*Always practice your spelling skills. Even though the Spelling contest goes away after the Sophomore level, kids at the JV/V level should still keep up with their spelling skills. They will encounter some long, difficult words in the Reading Comprehension test.

Speed & Accuracy:

*Slow down the rate of speech on your Victor Reader Stream or Book Port to help you keep up with the dictation without having to stop it so much.

*Don’t worry if you don’t finish everything. It is okay if you have to work at a slower pace, accuracy is important too. That’s why it’s called Speed and Accuracy.

Reading Comprehension:

*Some kids read the questions and then read the passage. Other kids skim through the passage and then reread it.

Charts & Graphs:

*You will have to read maps and charts that you may not be used to reading. Practice using maps and charts from textbooks.  Don’t just scan the maps first; be sure to get to know the content well before going to the questions.

VISTAS Education Partners
P.O. Box 4214 Highland Park, NJ 08904 | 732-835-6672 | info@vistaseducation.com

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