Visually Impaired Student Heading to National Spelling Bee
05/18/2012 AT 12:25 PM EDT
Zampella, an 11-year-old from Muskogee, Okla., will be on her way to Washington, D.C., at the end of this month to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
And while another 275 or so students are also heading to the competition, what sets this fifth-grader apart is the fact that since the time she was 5, Zampella, who is legally blind, has learned to read and type Braille at Parkview School – the Oklahoma School for the Blind, reports local TV station KJRH.
"At the school, they teach you, you can do anything you want," says Zampella, who has Nystagmus and Leber's Congenital Amaurosis – which did nothing to stand in her way last March, when she was up against 110 other students in the Eastern Oklahoma State Spelling Bee.
Reportedly going 16 rounds with last year's reigning champ, Zampella took the prize by properly spelling the word "Stollen," a traditional German fruit cake.
"When I had her in kindergarten, by the end of the year, she was reading on a second grade level. In Braille!" said her teacher, Cindy Lumpkin. "And, it just takes a lot to learn Braille."
To hone her spelling, Zampella studies two hours a day on her PACmate laptop computer with a Braille display and audio, she tells her local paper, the Muskogee Phoenix.
The newspaper also notes that there's a fund to help Zampella and her family (which includes her 5-year-old sister and classmate at the Parkview School, Katelynn) get to D.C. for the Spelling Bee over Memorial Day weekend.
Tax-deductible contributions may be made by check and sent to the Eastern Oklahoma State Spelling Bee, c/o Armstrong Bank, 2520 Chandler Rd., Muskogee OK 74403.
According to the Huffington Post, Joe Zampella, Richelle's father, told the Phoenix that the community has been "unbelievably generous ... It makes you understand that people do care about the children."