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The Odyssey

By: Dan Roem
03/28/2007

"Bristow Run," one judge wrote. "What a fun performance. Great humor. Clever way to display backgrounds. It is evident you practiced a lot!"

"Outstanding script!" another judge commented. "Well put together! Great team work!"

When a team is "very good at speaking" and has a script writer who should be "greatly congratulated" for putting together "many great comedy lines," the group may come across as seasoned theater professionals preparing themselves for the big time.

If "seasoned theater professionals" means third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and "big time" means middle school, then that perception would be correct when applied to a group of local youngsters.

Enter the Bristow Run Elementary School Odyssey of the Mind team, which blew its regional competition away March 3 at Falls Church High School, earning first place with a score of 181.75 points out of 200 and a spot at the Virginia state finals in Newport News on April 21.

Students used both sides of their brains for solving problems while working in teams, according to school principal Andrew Buchheit, who said the purpose of the competition is for participants to focus on analyzing situations while being creative in coming up with ideas on how to approach certain tasks.

The teams managed time and spoke in front of audiences, allowing them to apply real-life skills to problem-solving, he added.

Though young, the students had to come up with everything themselves, from the script and characters to props and scenes. Their coaches, Mary Hill and Zanka Massie, could only offer support and encouragement, as well as areas to practice.

Larissa Massie, Seyi Sole, Jenny Buchheit, Brooke Edwards, Jack Hill and Ann Oyhenart prepared themselves for almost half a year, meeting once a week to work on a project entitled "Around the World in 8 Minutes."

They obeyed the rules, too, such as having an explorer stop at three places around the world: a polar site, somewhere undiscovered and a location of their choosing. The explorer - played by Jack Hill - had to follow a cohesive plot explaining why he went from place to place.

On their own, the Bristow Run kids chose Luxembourg City in Europe, the Mariana Islands, located along the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean, which was rocked by "Hurricane LuLu" during the play, (the kids named the storm after Larissa's dog) and the Norwegian city of Spitzbergen.

After agreeing to different roles, the students determined for themselves what they were good at and, likewise, what they could contribute to the project. Larissa painted, Seyi dressed the part of a herbologist colleague, Brooke constructed anything she could, Jenny memorized lines well enough to appear in nearly every scene and Ann turned out to be a jack of all trades as she designed the set, wrote the script and improvised during scenes.

"I was a nerd," Jack said, to much laughter from his teammates during an interview Monday. "I was clumsy. I was funny. Everybody hated me pretty much."

The idea for his character came out of nowhere one day, according to his mother Mary, who said she was driving with him in the car and he randomly blurted out, "'Mom, I want to be Herb the herbologist'."

A herbologist, he explained, is someone who studies plants (the fifth-grade version of a botanist, if you will).

Herb's mission was to travel the world, and he found what he thought was a rare seed during his journey. However, it turned out to be a special metal that could power hovercrafts.

Ann, one of the group's three fifth-graders (along with Jack and Brooke) wrote a script in which Herb (played by Jack) and a princess (played by Brooke) interact, interjecting humor and emotions into their dialog.

Herb: "I am a herbologist, and..."

Princess: "Do you have any badges or identification to prove it?"

Herb: "Why yes!" [holds up card]

Princess: [sighs] "Safeway card..."

Herb: "Whoops! Well..." [holds up another card]

Princess: [sighs] "Giant card..."

Herb: Okay, Miss Smarty Princess - here!" [holds up another card]

Princess: [stifles a fit of giggles] "That's your beauty shop card!"

Herb: "Let's keep that our little secret."

What impressed the students, coaches and judges alike was a 3x3 cardboard box the team used for various scenes. One side of the box had a mountain painted on it while a volcano was at the opposite end.

While attending practice, Brooke noted Larissa's neighbors had empty boxes by the road, ready to be thrown away.

"'There are boxes over there by their neighbors and if we ask them, maybe we can use them," Brooke recalled telling her teammates.

The project as a whole showed what the children are capable of, according to the team coaches and principal.

"(It is) their thoughts, their world and their goofiness," Zanka Massie said.




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