Second-grader gets ready for blind reading challenge in Los Angeles
Second-grader Amare Leggette will soon embark on the biggest adventure of his life. For him, it's an adventure as wonderful as any in the "Magic Tree House" books he's always reading. "I'm going to ride a flying bus," he says.
Actually, it will be an airplane that takes Amare to Los Angeles, California from his home in North Carolina. However, why not a flying bus? After all, in the "Magic Tree House" books, siblings Jack and Annie travel through time in their tree house. The two characters visit places like ancient Greece and an Amazon rainforest. When Amare gets to California, he plans to ride a boat out to sea, where he hopes to meet a treasure ship. For a "Magic Tree House" fan like Amare, anything seems possible.
Amare is 8. He has curly black hair, and he loves reading and listening to stories. Last summer he read for 153 hours, the most of anyone in his grade at Eastover Elementary. His hard work earned him an exciting prize. For one hour, he got to be principal of his school.
A Contest In Los Angeles
Now, his reading will take him across the country. In Los Angeles, he will compete in the Braille Institute's Annual Braille Challenge. Amare, who is blind, was asked to participate in the challenge after scoring well on the institute's test. The test measured reading skills in braille, a form of writing for people who are blind. In braille, letters are represented by raised dots instead of shapes.
Amare is one of 50 students who will be part of the Braille Challenge. In Los Angeles, he will compete by taking three 30-minute tests.
Amare is excited about the contest, but he is more excited about visiting the Universal Studios theme park and an air and space exhibit. "Air is for airplanes, space is for rockets," he explains. "I love to listen to rockets take off."
No one knew Amare was blind when he was born, including his parents, Teresa Peterson and Kareem Leggette. His doctors later realized that his optic nerve was only one-fourth the size it should be. The optic nerve sends information from the eye to the brain. If it is not working correctly, the person may not be able to see. Because of the size of his optic nerve, Amare is unable to see anything.
Amare's school is the only elementary school in his district that teaches braille. Since kindergarten, Holly Jeffries has been his teacher. "She's amazing," Peterson says. "She does more than I'd ever expect."
According to Jeffries, Amare can read 150 words a minute. "I love him," Jeffries says. "I'm very proud of him."
Amare is lucky to have a teacher like Jeffries, Sergio Oliva says. Oliva works for the Braille Institute, which is based in Los Angeles. In some school districts, there are not enough teachers trained in working with students like Amare. There are times when "a blind kid goes months without learning any real lesson," he says.
When Peterson suggested that Amare enter the Braille Challenge, Jeffries made it happen. She is also going to Los Angeles for the event. So is Eastover Elementary's principal, Susan Nichols.
What It Means To Be Blind
Peterson says that Amare has only recently begun to realize what it means to be blind. He doesn't watch television and rarely hangs out with kids his age. Maybe that's why stories in books are so real to him. "It's like if he reads it, he truly believes it," Peterson says.
If Amare places first in his age group, he will win a device that allows users to download and read braille books. Given Amare's love of reading, it would be a great prize. He says he would rather that his mother buy him a boat.