2009-05-21 / Local & State

McConnellsburg Second-Grader Wins Reading Contest

Will attend national convention in July

Anna Walker, 8, the daughter of Steve and Carlton Ann Cook Walker, McConnellsburg, and a McConnellsburg Elementary School second-grader, has won first place in the second/third grade division of the "Braille Readers are Leaders" contest sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The contest is part of the NFB's "Braille Readers are Leaders" campaign, which encourages blind students to read Braille - the only tool offering true literacy on a par with print for nonprint readers.

Anna read 11,033 pages over a two-month period. She will receive $50 and a certificate of merit. She is one of only 12 children nationally who will also receive an all-expense-paid trip to the NFB's annual convention taking place in Detroit this July.

Anna, who loves math and science, is fully mainstreamed into her school. Her mother credits Braille and the NFB for her success. Carlton Ann Cook Walker is president of the Pennsylvania Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB.

"We're all so proud of Anna," says Jim Antonacci, president of the NFB of Pennsylvania and a retired state employee with 33 years experience as a teacher and rehabilitation counselor. Antonacci, who lost his sight in an accident while he was in high school, is responsible for bringing the NFB's "Braille Readers are Leaders" program to Pennsylvania; this year two Pennsylvania students are in the top 12 in the nation.

"It all comes down to Braille literacy," he says, "Right now only 10 percent of America's blind kids are being taught to read and write Braille. We have a 70 percent unemployment rate for blind Americans of working age, but of those who do work, over 80 percent are Braille readers."

Congress acknowledged the Braille literacy crisis by authorizing the minting of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, released March 26, 2009. Two of the Braille coins are now onboard the shuttle Atlantis as it completes its final mission to repair the Hubble telescope. Antonacci (Willow Grove) and other leaders from the NFB of PA convinced all 19 of Pennsylvania's representatives and both senators to co-sponsor the bill. NFB's "Braille Readers are Leaders" campaign will receive matching funds of $10 from each coin sold up to $4 million.

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