An extraordinary student from Muskogee is headed to a national literacy contest for Braille, as one of 50 finalists in the nation.
Richelle Zampella is one of Oklahoma's top students and was Valedictorian at the Oklahoma School for the Blind this year. Her family moved to Muskogee to attend OSB.
She's a fast reader, and writer, of Braille, good enough to be a finalist in the Braille Challenge - the only academic competition specifically for visually impaired students. The Braille Institute developed the competition because it considers Braille literacy to be critical for success and independence.
"I love reading and that's something I don't really have time to do during the school year because I'm so busy" said Zampella, "so I'm probably going to tap into my inner bookworm and read some before I go to college."
Richelle plans to attend the University of Central Oklahoma in the fall, to study music and become a music teacher. She's already an accomplished musician, playing alto saxophone, but it was academics that won her recognition by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence this year.
She scored 30 on the ACT.
Blind students get more time on the test, but it's the same test, just in Braille, with the math portion printed in raised ink. Charts that have different values have different textures that blind students must decipher to answer the questions.
"My strongest point is charts and graphs and everybody else is 'Oh - charts and graphs!' when they announce we're about to take that, but I love it," said Zampella.
At college, Richelle will live in the dorm, navigating an unfamiliar campus and new challenges. Her mother says she's up to it.
"I've watched her make plans and pursue those goals" said Sheila Zampella, "and I'm so grateful for the people who helped her learn things so she can be a successful person and go after what she wants in life."
Richelle believes her lack of sight is not much of an obstacle and with Braille, she can do as well any anyone.
"I really see it as a level playing field as long as you're willing to put in the work," she said.