Presley Jorgensen is focused on success.
Although she is only 10 years old, she just completed her second national competition in three years. Out of 1,065 students from across the United States and Canada, Presley was one of 60 finalists invited to Los Angeles for the National Braille Challenge on June 21.
Just a handful of all the finalists attend public schools. Most attend schools specifically designed for students with visual impairments. Presley just completed the fourth grade at Keller’s Heritage Elementary School.
Presley first attended the National Braille Challenge in 2012, competing in the youngest of five age groups. She moved up a level this year. The tests were the same subjects with more challenging material. Everything relates to braille literacy. The first two levels have three tests and the last three have four tests.
“First they give you stories with a bunch of errors, and you have to find the errors,” she said.
The second is Presley’s favorite part of the contest: spelling. An announcer says the word, uses it in a sentence and then repeats the word. Students use Braillers—a braille typewriter— to write each word in braille in both long and contracted forms. The last test measures reading comprehension.
Presley enjoyed competing, but her favorite part of the National Braille Challenge was the opening ceremonies. The contest is held at the Braille Institute. Competitors line up in the courtyard and then go into the auditorium with the University of Southern California marching band playing for them. The band then plays the Canadian and U.S. national anthems.
Each competitor’s name is announced and then the group recites “The Braille Challenge Oath.”
“It ends with ‘Now I say Let the Braille Challenge begin,’” Presley said.
Presley traveled to Los Angeles with an entourage of fans. Her traveling party included her guardians Susan and Jerry Loyd, her father, her cousin, her grandmother and several family friends. In addition to the contest, they went to Universal Studios, spent an afternoon at the beach and went swimming. Presley loves to swim.
The first time Presley went to the contest, Susan and Jerry Loyd took her for just the weekend. This time they wanted to take a few days to enjoy California.
Jerry Loyd said, “It was neat for us to see some of the families we met the first time and see the kids reconnect.”
An exceptional student
Presley had to work hard to get back to the contest.
Kellie Owens, one of her regular classroom teachers at Heritage this past year, said Presley would take every spare moment to study on her BrailleNote, a personal computer for the visually impaired.
“We would see her studying on her BrailleNote at recess and have to tell her to stop and go play with her friends,” Owens said.
Presley gets top marks in school, using her BrailleNote to do assignments. She can email her teachers and the device converts the braille to print and any response in print back to braille.
Throughout her school years, she has been in regular classrooms with assistance from a teacher specializing in instructing the visually impaired.
Owens said that having Presley in class helped all her students become better at describing what they saw in a video or demonstration. Students also got to catch small glimpses of Presley’s challenges.
Physical education teacher Ashley Yardley set up a rope that went across the gym for Presley to participate in the Pacer Test, a fitness assessment that measures how many laps a student can run or walk in a certain time. Owens said that after gym class one day, her students stayed and tried the Pacer blindfolded using the rope.
“It was hard to go in a straight line, even with the rope,” Owens said.
Afterward, teachers had students write about that experience and how it impacted them. Owens had the essays converted into a braille book for Presley.
She has been an example to the whole school for always giving her best effort. In third grade, Presley represented Heritage at the area spelling bee and advanced numerous rounds.
Owens said, “When she started in my class, I wanted to make sure I did everything to meet her needs and bless her, but really the blessing was for me. She is an exceptional student who works very hard.”
Up next for Presley is fifth grade at Chisholm Trail Intermediate School. She’s looking forward to meeting new friends and overcoming the challenge of getting used to a new school.
She’d like to get back to the National Braille Challenge because next time the family is thinking about going to Disneyland.
Farther in the future, she’d like to be a composer or maybe a teacher. She plays piano, learning music by ear with help from a music therapist. Presley already composes her own arrangements with classical influences.
This summer she’ll take a break from studying. When she’s using her BrailleNote computer, mostly she’ll be playing games, surfing the Web and listening to music.
“It’s very awesome,” Presley said.