Prairie View student wins Idaho 2016 Braille Challenge

April 20, 2016 | | Keith Cousins

POST FALLS — The tears streaming down Emma Erckenbrack’s face Tuesday could not mask the sheer joy and brightness the Prairie View Elementary student exuded after hearing the surprise announcement.

Emma, a blind third-grader, was the winner of Idaho’s 2016 Braille Challenge.

“This is the best day ever,” Emma exclaimed while surrounded by family and teachers following the announcement. “I love you all so much!”

The surprise announcement took place in the school’s gym during Prairie View’s monthly “Pawsitive Prairie Dog” Assembly, where students nominated by their teachers are honored for displaying positive character traits. Principal Janelle Baker told The Press she became immediately excited when she was approached about the idea of surprising Emma during the assembly.

“She has worked really hard,” Baker said. “She’s determined and shows perseverance every day.”

Baker added that Emma, who takes the same classes as her peers, has a team of staff members and specialists who work closely with her throughout each day. One of those team members, education specialist Tina Johnson, told The Press Emma is a hilarious girl who loves cats and works hard to achieve marks at or above grade-level.

“We have a great district,” Johnson said. “They don’t baby her and we have the same expectations of her as any other student. It’s why she does so well.”

Emma quickly rose to the challenge, Johnson said, when she was approached with the opportunity to compete in the Braille Challenge — a national academic contest designed to motivate blind students to emphasize their study of Braille. Not only did the competition involve a test of Emma’s ability to read, proofread and write in Braille; it involved her learning a new Braille code, the recently adopted Unified English Braille code, as well.

“I am like a proud parent today,” Johnson said of getting the opportunity to surprise Emma with the news that she was the top placer in the age bracket for third and fourth grades.

Emma’s parents, Dan and Shelly, were on hand for the surprise announcement and told The Press they were excited to see their daughter’s reaction to winning the award.

“We always knew Emma works really, really hard,” Shelly said. “But this kind of validates that.””She’s a very intelligent young lady,” Dan added.

As the assembly began and Johnson was called to the podium, an unaware Emma began clapping loudly for her instructor. Once Johnson started explaining her reasoning for addressing the audience, Emma realized something special was about to happen.

“Would you like to come up here Emma?” Johnson asked while holding back tears.

Excitement flooded Emma’s face during the announcement, and the subsequent applause from students and parents gathered for the assembly was thunderous.

“Thank you everyone,” Emma said through tears of joy.

Following the announcement, The Press asked Emma how it felt to win the challenge. She struggled to form words, but the excitement in her expression spoke volumes.

“I love surprises,” Emma eventually said. “And this was a good surprise.”

Emma added she was pretty confident in her skills going into the competition, which she had joined primarily to meet other blind children since there are no others at her school.

On May 1, Emma will find out if her scores in the challenge placed her among the top 12 in the nation. If so, she will go on to compete at a national challenge in California.

Regardless of where she lands nationally, Emma said she plans on competing again.

“I have to,” Emma said with a smile. “I’ll see you next year.”