Shawnee Mission is home to two of the top Braille competitors in the United States.
Jude Nickson, a fourth-grader at Trailwood Elementary School, was recognized in the 2021 Freshman age group. Charlie Bethay, a junior at Shawnee Mission East High School, is a finalist in the 2021 Varsity category. They are among the top 10 in each age group out of about 1,000 competitors. Both have qualified multiple times in this national competition.
To earn their spot, they demonstrated ability in reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs.
Abbigail Chappel, who served as a teacher for the visually impaired, and Stacey Kearney, SMSD Braillist helped Jude on his path to national recognition. Both students also have worked with Jeri Hile, teacher for the visually impaired. They work hard all year, using Braille to complete school work and take time outside of school to achieve at this level, Hile shared.
“They are focused and are committed to competing and doing their best at the Braille Challenge,” Hile added.
The Braille Challenge is a national competition held in the spring and is centered on helping students build their Braille literacy skills.
“Sometimes people ask why we still teach Braille when we have all sorts of technology that will read for us,” Hile shared. “It is because Braille is literacy for individuals who are visually impaired and cannot read print. Braille reading for these students is as important as print reading for the sighted.”