| Southwest Riverside News Network |
Temecula students embark on an 'Odyssey of the Mind'

By Maggie Avants
Four of Abby's Reinke's teams advanced to the state competition, held on March 26 near Sacramento, where three of the teams placed fifth overall, fifth and 13th in the state.

Something stuck out in third-grade teacher Cindy Hurley's mind. It was something she participated in when she was in grade school in the 70s in New Jersey, called Odyssey of the Mind. Two years ago when Hurley's daughter was in second grade at Abby Reinke Elementary in Temecula, Hurley said her daughter was coming home worried about many of the things she herself worried about at that age.

"She needed to keep her mind occupied," Hurley said.

So she looked up Odyssey of the Mind, and found that the program had grown exponentially since it was founded 25 years ago by Sam Micklus, an industrial design professor at Rowan University in New Jersey. According to odysseyofthemind.com, Micklus would challenge his students to creative problem-solving. The students would be placed on teams, and had to come up with ways to build a car without wheels or a flotation device to get them across a lake. The result was the ability to work in teams and to think out of the box.

In 1999, a nonprofit organization, Creative Opportunities Unlimited, was formed to support Odyssey of the Mind. Today, annual regional, state and worldwide competitions are held.

Excited for her daughter and her students to participate in the same thing she did in a child, Hurley started up the extracurricular activity at Abby Reinke in 2008 with four teams. This year the school sent 10 teams to the regional competition on March 6 in Palm Springs, where they competed against 85 schools from the Inland Empire. Four of Abby's Reinke's teams advanced to the state competition, held on March 26 near Sacramento, where three of the teams placed fifth overall, fifth and 13th in the state.

The teams composed of seven students from grades third through fifth, began working on their projects in November. It required meeting two days a week after school and sometimes on the weekends. Each team had a coach, either a parent or a teacher.

"The program doesn't work unless you have extremely dedicated coaches and it requires a lot of patience," Hurley said. "I had a lot of parents really step up."

Teams from around the world were given the same long-term problems, such as building a human-powered vehicle and camper that would go on a camping trip; making and operating a series of aircrafts; or reenacting an archaeological discovery from the past and relating it to the future.

The students spent weeks preparing their projects, which included making props, costumes and writing an 8-minute skit.

"It forces those independent ones to work together," Hurley said. "Some teams just click and others need to figure out ways to work together."

Coaches were not permitted to help solve the problem, acting only as chaperones and organizers.

Erin Vehlow, a mother and team coach, said being a coach was like being the "go-to person, the scheduler."

Hurley said many of the parents opened up their garages, attics and homes so the teams could prepare.

"It made it all worth it, seeing them be so creative," said Linda Zimel, whose son Jacob was on the Nature Trail'R team.

Jacob, 11, and his six teammates placed fifth overall in state for their human-powered nature vehicle. Parents and others drove the teams to the state competition. Because they had to take their props with them, flying there was not an option.

Miles Ferguson, 10, a teammate of Jacob's said even though it was a lot of work, "it really tested our creativity."

He said he enjoyed meeting new people from his school and at the competitions, and overcoming obstacles with his teammates.

Kendall Leander, 11, and her teammates had to discover an actual historical treasure and then recreate it. They also had to use an existing treasure but portray it as a future discovery. The team went with the solar theme, uncovering the King Khufu boat, also known as a "solar barge." The boat was discovered in 1954 in Egypt.

"Working together was the best part," Kendall said.

Sandy McKay, the principal of Abby Reinke Elementrary, went to the regional completion in Palm Springs to support the students.

"They have to perform their problem...We don't ask kids to do that too often. It's usually pencils and paper, but to do this they have to think creatively," McKay said. "Anytime they have to think critically and problem-solve, it will help them in the classroom."


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