Bluffview Elementary School student is first state participant in annual Braille Challenge

By Joshua Kellogg | The Daily Times | UPDATED: 06/03/2015

FARMINGTON — A visually impaired Farmington elementary student will be the first student from the state of New Mexico to compete in the annual Braille Challenge in its 15-year history.

Seven-year-old Fernando Reyes, a second-grade student at Bluffview Elementary School, is one of 60 finalists from the U.S. and Canada to qualify for the national reading and writing contest in Braille for students who are blind or visually impaired.

The Braille Institute will host the annual event on June 20 at the Braille Institute headquarters in Los Angeles.

John Tellem, a spokesman for the Braille Institute, said Fernando is the first person from New Mexico to qualify for the national event in the challenge’s 15-year history.
Sitting at a table Monday at Bluffview with his teacher Carol Green and mother Paola Reyes, Fernando said he was excited about the possibility of visiting the Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad, Calif.

Green, a certified teacher of the blind and visually impaired who works out of the Farmington Municipal School District Exceptional Programs office, said Fernando also participated in the regional challenge last year. Green said Fernando is legally blind but has slight light perception and can tell if it is day or night.

“He did it last year, but last year, he was still in first grade. Neither of us took it seriously,” Green said. “I thought he would do well (this year) but I didn’t think he would place nationally. I’m very proud of him for his accomplishment.”

Paola Reyes, with the help of Bluffview Principal ShAlyn Weisheit who translated for Paola, said it was beautiful to see Fernando develop into the student he is today.

Danette Fuller, director of educational support for the New Mexico School for the Blind, said the school sponsored the regional challenge held on Feb. 21 in Alamogordo with about 20 students participating.

Fernando is one of 12 first- and second-grade students who will compete in the apprentice category. The students will compete by taking a reading comprehension, spelling and proofreading test.

During the spelling test, Fuller said students have to spell the words on the test twice to account for the two forms of Braille: contracted and uncontracted.

Fuller described contracted Braille as similar to short-hand writing and said it is the form of Braille used in textbooks.

Bluffview educational assistant Monica Nord helps provide Fernando with one-on-one assistance during the school day.

She said Fernando is the kind of student who doesn’t let being visually impaired get in the way of climbing on playground equipment, and he keeps up with his fellow students academically.

“Sometimes, he acts like he doesn’t have any disabilities at all,” Nord said. “He goes and plays with the other kids. He has done things that have amazed me.”