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Students statewide will compete in Odyssey of the Mind event in Belleville

BY RICKEENA J. RICHARDS

Some of the metro-east's most creative thinkers will be polishing their Odyssey of the Mind presentations today in hopes of winning a state championship this weekend.

"We're really nervous because we're up against teams that are really good, and you never know what to expect," said Brooke Schaefer, a Central Junior High School student who will be competing. "But we're pretty confident."

More than 200 students from around the state will head to the Belleville West High School campus Saturday for the Illinois Odyssey of the Mind state competition.

Odyssey of the Mind is a program for kindergarten through college students that provides them with tools to be creative thinkers in problem solving.

About 40 teams of elementary through high school students will use their theater and engineering skills to present their creative solutions and compete for first or second place in their divisions to advance to the World Finals in Ames, Iowa, in May.

"It's much more than just your science fair or math contest," Jim Mourey, former coach and vice president of the Illinois Odyssey of the Mind board, said of the program's effect on students. "It's an educational opportunity that takes them beyond the classroom. They're allowed to think outside of the box."

Brooke and teammate Daniel Buxton, both eighth-graders at Central, said they've participated in the program for four years, qualifying for the World Finals their first year.

"There's nothing like it," Daniel said of the program. "You're faced with a problem and there are so many ways to go about solving it."

In addition to encouraging creative thinking, the program also is designed to teach students about teamwork and build their self-confidence while making learning fun.

"The team character building is the just the greatest thing. ...The bonding is incredible," Mourey said.

Brooke and Daniel said competing has taught them about time management and hard work, saying competitors must work hard and be determined to get things done. Brooke said competitors also can gain self-confidence through all the public speaking the program requires.

As nervous as they might be, they remain focused as they offered a one-word response in unison when asked what runs through their minds when they think of Saturday's competition.

"World."



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