Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning
The National Federation of the Blind of Missouri has successfully held The BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy & Learning) Academy for the past 10 summers. In Preparation for the 2024 BELL Academy we are looking to gauge the interest/availability of the families we may serve. By completing this survey you will be helping us to plan for a BELL Academy time and location that will allow us to accommodate as many families as possible.
For additional information about any of our youth programs,
please email: Youth-Programs@nfbmo.org
My Time at BELL Academy
By Salome Cummins
My name is Salome Faith Cummins and I have been to the, Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy for seven years, 2015 - 2022.
I even attended during the COVID 19 pandemic. However, COVID 19 could not stop Debbie Wunder and Jenny Carmack and the rest of the BELL staff from educating young blind children in braille literacy. With this attitude BELL could not fail, it didn’t fail. BELL went virtual, like so many other things in that time had. Virtual BELL was actually very impressive. Unlike in person BELL, the students were broken up into three groups; beginner, intermediate, and advanced braille readers. Each group was taught separately. Each of these groups met for an hour each day. There was also a social hour where all three groups were able to talk to each other and to the teacher.
However impressive virtual BELL may have been, in person BELL is best! An in-person day at BELL Academy looks like this. The students assemble at the chosen location. Mr. Randy (Ms. Jenny’s husband, who also volunteers to help) meets parents and students at the door and leads them to the right classroom. Until all of the children arrive (they call the children, bellringers), they can play with play dough, read a book, or do some other non-visual activity until everyone is there. After that it depends on what the teachers have planned. In the morning we usually do two different activities. Unless it’s super-hot outside, we will have a twenty-to-thirty-minute recess. Then we go to the bathroom, where we have to at least wash our hands. Then we have lunch. Right after lunch we sit in a circle and Ms. Debbie and Ms. Jenny ask us a question about different things. We discuss the answers given by bellringers and teachers alike. Then we usually have two more fun activities. We do some braille every day. After that we have a snack. Sometimes during snack, sometimes after, we do something called ring-out. We get out a bell and pass it around, each saying our favorite part of the day. Then we ring the bell.
BELL is a two-week long day camp and on the last Friday we have a Parent Presentation. Early in the program we get instructions and throughout the two weeks we practice. At the Parent Presentation we show our parents what we have learned.
BELL is a fun summer camp that is also educational and for a wide range of ages. BELL can unite blind children with blind adults and other blind children.
I Love Braille
by Jenny Carmack
“I love braille,” said Salome Cummins several times throughout the two weeks of the 2019 Missouri Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy. Yes, the Missouri affiliate had our 6th successful BELL Academy. The staff and bell ringers made some new memories and had a lot of fun working together. As another bell ringer said, “I liked everything at BELL.” (Russell Dorn).
This year we brought back some of the familiar favorite activities. The bell ringers enjoyed running on the Ninja Running Line in which they were timed and tried to run faster and faster to beat their own best times. We also got a good laugh out of writing silly stories, by passing a braille writer around and adding a sentence to the story without reading what was already written. One of those stories consisted of someone turning cart wheels in the frozen food section of the grocery store. The bell ringers had the opportunity to become pirates for a while, using their fingers to dig for hidden treasures. They sure did a great job digging up bells, beads, and stones ARRRR! We eagerly worked on our slates each day and became more proficient at loading the paper, using correct spacing, and improving accuracy. Using the tennis balls and muffin tins was a fun way to show off our knowledge of braille signs and contractions. How quickly do you think you could form every letter in the alphabet with the muffin tins and balls? Some of our bell ringers are quite fast!
In addition to our familiar favorites, we also had some new activities that just may make the favorites list in the future. CRASH, was the sound the Jenga blocks made when the tower fell over. We played Jenga several times and everyone used steady hands when removing a block and placing it on the top of the tower, but we all exploded with laughter when the tower would come toppling over. During a game of braille Memory we had to put on our thinking caps to try and remember where we last saw a particular card. “Where is that …” could be heard as each Memory game player took their turn. Mr. Shamar, a volunteer from the community, came one day to paint with us. We got to paint on different textures and create a painting on plastic face molds. That was a fun, but messy activity. In another new activity we worked on naming a variety of feelings and what makes us feel that way. “I feel sad when I am not with my mom,” “I feel mad when I make a mistake,” “I feel tired when I play a lot, or “I feel hungry when it is almost lunch time.” Those were some of the emotions discussed during this activity, as well as some strategies for getting through some hard feelings like anger or sadness. We learned that we can squeeze clay or rub a smooth stone to work through negative feelings. Of course every year we celebrate Louis Braille, but this years celebration was different in that it was a carnival. Just like at any other carnival we had a variety of games to choose from and we won prizes. There was face painting, hoola hooping, fishing, and diving for creatures in the lagoon. (What was that creature? Don’t worry, you can find out by turning it over and reading its name which was written in braille!) A field trip is always an adventure at the BELL Academy, and this year was no exception. We went to a new place called “We Rock the Spectrum.” The bell ringers jumped on trampolines, swung on different types of swings, climbed the rope wall, zoomed across the zip line, and more at this safe and fully inclusive activity gym. Last, but not least, the BELL Academy would not be complete without a parent presentation. However, there was a new twist on this year’s presentation, we put on the play of “The Three Little Pigs.” All of the staff and bell ringers worked hard all week to learn the play and everyone really enjoyed it. In fact the BELL staff has been given an assignment for next year, we are to find or write a play that is about Louis Braille. (Good Luck!)
Obviously every activity that we do throughout the two weeks cannot be listed here, or it would be a book. However, these were some of the highlights from the BELL Academy. All of the activities include skill building in one or more area. Some of the skills we address in these activities include tactile skills, special awareness, braille, orientation and mobility, relationship building, and others. We strive to plan activities which will help our bell ringers to learn while they are having fun. I would like to take this time to thank individual donors, members and chapters who made monetary or in kind donations to the BELL Academy, these donations provide the support we need to have a strong program for the bell ringers. A big thanks also goes out to the volunteers who worked very hard and gave up their tine this summer to make the BELL Academy successful. It takes a lot of dedication and diligence from those who volunteer to be present each day of the two week academy, but also to help in the planning and preparation that takes place prior to the BELL Academy. I would also like to thank the parents of the bell ringers for their dedication in getting their child to BELL each morning. Most of the parents have to make changes to their family’s daily routine to make sure their child can participate each day, that is truly worth a huge thanks. Without parents, volunteers and donations we would have no BELL Academy, so thank you, one more time!