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Following the odyssey of creative young people

By Bob Curtis
Goshen - Last Sunday, I attended the snow-delayed Odyssey of the Mind competition at the Orange-Ulster BOCES campus in Goshen. And I'm so glad I did. As an M-W school board member, I was very anxious to see what our teams "had in mind" in addressing the various motivating problems and challenges they would face in this annual contest of problem-solving creativity.

Part drama festival, part science fair, the Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students ranging from kindergarten through college age. Students apply their creativity to solving problems that range from building mechanical devices or delicate structures that bear unlikely amounts of weight, to presenting their own interpretation of scientific principles or literary classics in the form of skits and other imaginative performances.

During my day at this most friendly competition, I attended Odyssey components involving every school from our district. I was most impressed with all of the performances of the many Monroe-Woodbury teams that I saw in competition. They were singularly creative, funny, smart, talented, and demonstrably creative.

What more could you ask of students in such a contest?

I also attended one of the awards ceremonies, and saw quite a few M-W teams win various level awards. But some, as I observed, did not win the top awards. Even so, I did not see the level of excitement among our students falter for one moment, as they supported and cheered for each other on all levels of play X even down to the special award bestowed on young Jimmy Curtis (no relation) of the Central Valley team for his enthusiasm for and assistance to his fellow contestants. What an honor for him, and for us in M-W, as his generous spirit achieved such recognition.

According to M-W's District Gifted and Talented Coordinator Debra Garling, this year's M-W contingent included 20 coaches working with 19 teams, each team comprised of seven members - for a total of 133 students. Their dedicated coaches included Rosemarie Lang, Christine Loesche, Lynette Marks, Kathleen Doherty, Betsy Huberth, Benay Goldstein, Laura Lawrence, Bridget Dudzik, Michael Dudzik, Cynthia O'Neil, Merrette Rentmeester, Lucy Ma, Lindsay Minieri, Ann Marie Ruggiero, Maryann Shirley, Sara Wetter, Dori Johnson, Brandtly Jones, JoAnna Orkoulas, Joanne Mazzola and Donna Wetzstein.

And in terms of awards, the district achieved three first place finishes, including representation from the high school, middle school, and elementary school divisions. In addition, there were two teams that placed second, and another which placed third. As Ms. Garling observed, "What a great Odyssey season this is!" And while this particular concept may seem somewhat cliched, I will take the risk of saying that I certainly felt all our students were winners! So once again, congratulations to all on an amazing team effort. In my mind, the wonderful accomplishments of our students and their coaches in this particular Odyssey deserve to be celebrated by the whole district and the entire extended Monroe-Woodbury community.

As noted on the competition's own Web site: "In Odyssey of the Mind, students learn at a young age skills that will last a lifetime. They work in teams so they learn cooperation and respect for the ideas of others."

We should all be proud of their wonderful achievements, as well as these lessons learned by our exemplary students.

Bob Curtis is a member of the Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education.


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