By Ellen Oliver
Matteo Faso of Stow participated in the 14th Annual Northeast Regional Braille Challenge reading, writing and spelling contest held Saturday, March 8 at the Carroll Center for the Blind.
Faso, 12, a 5th grade student, was one of 27 students of varying ages and levels from across the northeast who participated in the event. Faso competed in the apprentice/rookie level vying with seven other students in feats of spelling, comprehension and grammar.
“He loves taking spelling tests,” said Matteo’s mother, Michelle Contey. “He’s a better speller than I am.”
Faso recalled some of the words he was able to spell during the challenge. “I spelled nickel, sentence, compare and excite,” he said, listing only a few of the 40 words in the challenge.
In the challenge students from grades 2 through 11 were tested on their skills in reading comprehension, Braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs. Sixty of the top-scoring students from the entire pool of 1600 participants were invited to the highly competitive National Braille Challenge Finals in Los Angeles in June.
Faso had competed in the challenge twice before, once when he was in second grade, then again last year. Although Faso didn’t take home top awards this year, he would do the challenge again.
To prepare for the challenge, Faso participated in the Braille Brush-up, a program at Carroll where he was able to practice his Braille reading, spelling and comprehension skills.
“His teacher is big on the program,” said Contey. “That inspired him.”
Faso and his competitors were assisted by more than 45 volunteers, including family members, former students and Carroll Center teachers who proctored and scored the tests.
While Faso and the other competitors faced a rigorous exercise in the Braille reading, writing and spelling tests, they were treated to a tasty reward after the competition.
“I ate my rewards!” exclaimed Faso. “Chocolate ice cream.”
The Braille Challenge, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary, was developed by the Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles in 2001. The challenge is a national event, with 43 regionals and more than 1600 students participating throughout the United States and Canada. The Carroll Center for the Blind, an education and rehabilitation facility that provides blind and visually-impaired people of all ages with the skills they need to live, learn and work independently, was the first organization in the United States to partner with the Braille Institute to create a regional Challenge.
According to Dr. Karen Ross, director of education services at the Carroll Center for the Blind, the annual event “is a wonderful way to motivate blind and visually-impaired students to take pride in their literacy skills.”
“Each year the students look forward to this extraordinary event at the Carroll Center,” Dr. Ross explained. “We use our time together to celebrate the hard work these young people accomplish on a daily basis in order to achieve their potential in the classroom and community. They cherish the friendships they make here and look forward to being reunited every winter for this family friendly competition. It’s a day filled with special memories for everyone… students, families, teachers, staff, donors and volunteers alike.”