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Future engineers head East

BY ESTHER AVILA
THE PORTERVILLE RECORDER

Six students from the Odyssey of the Mind team from Burton Middle School received what they called "the news of a lifetime" at Monday night's Burton School District Board Meeting when their principal, Michelle Pengilly, read a letter to all who attended the standing-room-only board meeting.

The letter from Sam Micklus, the international director of Odyssey of the Mind, congratulated Pengilly and the Odyssey of the Mind students for an outstanding job with a prosthetic device that they made for 9-year-old Matt Lane recently.

"They are to be commended for their outstanding spirit and creativity," Pengilly read.

But it was a couple of sentences later that caused the audience to react excitedly.

"We would ask that you excuse their coach, Hoss McNutt and the six students from school May 27 to June 4 so that they may be our guests at the 2008 OM World Finals," read Pengilly. "We will fly them to Washington DC where they will stay in the dorms at the University of Maryland. We have arranged for them to visit the Bethesda Naval Prosthetic Research Center, the National Cancer Center for Amputee research, and three days just to see Washington DC."

The six students all said that they were shocked at the news that McNutt had kept secret from them.

"We were so excited, we almost had a stroke," Matthew Jones said. "We knew we were getting an award but we figured it would be a little presentation. We never expected this."

The board presented the six seventh-graders, Coral Gardner, Darion Zamora, Matthew Jones, Nicolas Garcia, Zeng Cha and one eighth-grader Satwant Malhi, individual personalized plaques for their accomplishments.

On Tuesday morning, as the group was still talking about the night before, McNutt received more good news.

"It just keeps getting better," he said, as he printed up an e-mail in the classroom. "I just got a letter from Sam [Micklus.]"

McNutt proceeded to read the letter to the students -- informing them that a tour of NASA has been arranged for the group.

The six students said they are "thrilled" with everything that has happened. People they know and strangers alike keep approaching them to shake their hand and tell them what a great thing they have done.

"We're not Rock stars. We're just helping somebody," said Malhi. "We're proud of what we have done, but it also made us understand that we take little things for granted and we shouldn't."

Even though the students will not be competing at the World competition, they are kept extremely busy.

On Thursday they toured Hanger Prosthetics in Visalia.

They are making a presentation at the Springville Rotary in the morning and will film an eight-minute documentary on their project in the afternoon, with videographer Jared Torres in conjunction with Tulare County Department of Education's Educational Resource Services Program.

"We have a lot of work to do before then," said Malhi. "We are working on a new hand. Hanger Prosthetics gave us a hook that opens and closes so that [Matt Lane] can pick up things with it. We're also working on making a special swimming foot for Matt."

The team will not only be presented with a special "Outstanding OMER Award" when they get to Maryland, but they will also present their documentary film and talk about their project while they are there.

"They are expecting 28,000 people to attend this year's opening ceremonies at the University of Maryland Event Center," said Hoss. "It will be an amazing experience for them."


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