| The Joplin Globe |
East Newton students headed to World Finals

By Mike Pound
This time, it looks as if everyone gets to go.

Last year, seven students from the East Newton School District's gifted-students program qualified to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. This year, 27 students made the cut. Of those 27, 22 are in the third through eighth grades, and five are in high school.

Livvia Seufert, director of the East Newton gifted-students program, said the five high-school students competed primarily for the fun of the competition. Unlike their elementary and junior-high counterparts, the high-school students were not given class time to work on their projects.

"They had to work on them after school and on weekends," Livvia said.

Odyssey of the Mind is a competition that requires kids to use creative problem-solving techniques. The students are asked to create a skit laying out a problem and a solution to that problem. As part of the competition, the students also are given at least one spontaneous problem to work through.

On March 7, five East Newton Odyssey of the Mind teams traveled to Rolla to compete in the statewide competition. The kids got off the bus that morning a nervous bunch of small-town youngsters set to compete against students from some of the largest schools in Missouri.

Later that day, those same kids climbed back onto the bus an ecstatic group, with three first-place trophies and two second-place trophies, making all five teams eligible to compete in the World Finals.

"I've never seen a group of kids so excited," Livvia said. "When they got on the bus, they were screaming and hollering."

In the state of Missouri, 14 teams qualified for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, and five of those 14 teams are from East Newton.

I think that's something.

I wrote about Livvia's students last year when they qualified for the World Finals. I thought it was cool that a team from a small, rural school district went up against students from larger and often more affluent school districts and more than held its own. Neater still, I thought, was the way the East Newton School District community came together to raise the more than $5,000 that was needed to send the kids to the finals, which were in College Heights, Md.

This year, the World Finals are in Ames, Iowa, which will make the price tag a little lower. Still, the cost for transportation, lodging, meals and entry fees will run about $500 per student.

But, once again, the community is out in force, working to raise the necessary funds to send the kids back to the finals.

On May 8, a group of volunteers will have a chicken dinner from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at East Newton High School. The cost is $6 for adults and $4 for children under 10. There also will be a silent auction and several raffles.

Livvia said businesses and individuals from all the communities in the school district have donated items for the auction and the raffles. And more items are coming in, she said.

It's a neat deal, and the money will help a great group of kids.

While Livvia and I sat in her small classroom next to the bus barn behind the high school, we talked about the school district. I mentioned to Livvia that it seemed to me that the district was not exactly rolling in dough. I told her how impressive it was that kids from decidedly humble backgrounds were able to go toe-to-toe (or brain-to-brain) with kids from all across the state.

Livvia was quiet for a few seconds. Then, with a shaky voice, she smiled and said, "It's very special." And then she wiped her eyes with a Kleenex.

Livvia is right. It is very special.


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