By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Oklahoma School for the Blind student and defending champion Richelle Zampella from Muskogee has received the Harley Fetterman Award for Excellence in Charts and Graphs. The honor was presented at the 2016 National Braille Challenge competition in Los Angeles on June 18.
Now a sophomore, this was the third time Zampella has competed at the national level.
In 2015, she won first place in the junior varsity division at the national Braille Challenge against students from the United States and Canada. This year, Zampella took second place.
“I am satisfied with how I did this year,” she said. “I am honored to be the first person to receive the charts and graphs award named in honor of Harley Fetterman. It was great to share the excitement of placing in the top three in junior varsity with some friends I made who also placed.”
The Braille Challenge is a national program sponsored by the Braille Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to eliminate barriers caused by blindness and severe sight loss.
This year during the Oklahoma Regional Braille Challenge, Zampella earned first place honors in the junior varsity division and first place overall for grades seven through 12.
The regional competition was held in February at the Oklahoma School for the Blind located in Muskogee, OK.
Her scores placed her in the top ten nationally among 213 contestants in her division at 47 Regional Braille Challenge events. A total of 1,123 Braille students in grades one through 12 participated at the regional level.
“I think the level of competition was much higher than last year,” Zampella said. “On more than one occasion I had to remind myself, ‘Don’t focus on how far they got or how quickly they finished the tests, don’t compare yourself to them.’”
The Braille Challenge is an academic competition designed to motivate blind students to emphasize their study of braille, while rewarding their success with challenging, local and national events.
This year’s Challenge was held from January through March, at 46 different sites and was proctored by up to 80 teachers of visually impaired students from throughout the United States and Canada.
The preliminary round was open to students of all skills levels. The top-scoring 50 contestants nationally were then invited to Los Angeles for the Final Round in June.
Braille Challenge contest categories include reading comprehension, braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs.
These contests are scored locally according to national guidelines by volunteer transcribers. Each contestant receives a brailled certificate of appreciation and general feedback on their performance, which is then sent to their families and educators.
Zampella says she plans to compete again in 2017. After high school, she wants to pursue a career as a professional saxophonist and music teacher. This was her sixth time to compete in The Braille Challenge and her fifth in the finals.
The Oklahoma School for the Blind (OSB) has achieved a 100 percent graduation rate for five years. Academic programs are fully accredited with a focus on state-mandated education requirements and specialized skills that help students live independently.
In 2015, 158 students lived at the school Monday through Thursday, commuted from home or attended summer school classes.
OSB provides thousands of free evaluations, consultations and outreach services each year for students attending local public schools, their families and educators.
For more information, visit the OSB website or call 918-781-8200.