Four students who study with Alphapointe staff members placed among the top three students at the annual Braille Challenge national competition held on the campus of the University of Southern California and announced during an awards ceremony on Saturday, June 25.
Salome Cummins, a former Kansas City area resident who now lives in St. Charles, Mo., won the national title in the “Sophomore” division (grades 5-6), while Charlie Bethay and Brooke Petro finished as national runners-up with Emrie Wisner capturing third place.
Petro, who had previously won six Braille Challenge national titles, captured second place while competing in the “Junior Varsity” division (grades 7-9). Additionally, Petro claimed the “Excellence in Reading Comprehension” award, which is presented to one participant who most excels in reading comprehension across all divisions of the competition.
Bethay claimed a runner-up finish in the “Varsity” division (grades 10-12) in finishing in the top three in the competition for the first time after previously making the national competition in multiple years.
Wisner captured third place in the “Freshman” division (grades 3-4) as she competed for the second time in the event after finishing third in her division in 2021.
The equivalent of the Scripps National Spelling Bee for students who are blind or visually impaired, the Braille Institute started the Braille Challenge in 2000 and it remains the only competition of its kind in the United States and Canada. The Braille Challenge focuses on testing the capability of students in five primary areas: spelling, reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, proofreading and charts/graphs.
Annually, nearly 1,000 students in both countries compete to advance to the national Braille Challenge event with only the top 10 students in one of five age groups advancing. Qualifying meant the Kansas City students are in the top 95th percentile for braille aptitude among all students in the U.S. or Canada.
The students were led by Alphapointe Braille Instructor Helen Hahn and Shawnee Mission School District Teacher of the Visually Impaired Jeri Hile. Both Hahn and Hile have tutored numerous Braille Challenge champions and competitors.