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Colvin Run on an 'Odyssey'

By: Monty Tayloe

Seven-year-old Amelia Lindsay is walking around in a circle, repeatedly honking a bike horn. Jack Mead, also 7, is struggling to lift a flattened cardboard box that is five times his size. Meanwhile, 7-year-old Melody Stone enjoys a juice box, and Nitin Sakhamuri, 6, is explaining why he wants to be president.

"Because he gets to fall down!" Sakhamuri exclaimed. It sounds like day care but is actually a work session for Colvin Run Elementary School's Odyssey of the Mind team. Odyssey of the Mind, or OM, as it is known, is an international education program that teaches children to solve their own problems.

"Kids are rewarded more for how they apply their knowledge, skills and talents and not for coming up with the right answer. In fact, in Odyssey of the Mind problems, there isn't one right answer. Ever," according to the organization's Web site.

The children, along with team members Catherine Zysk and Anya Hoffman, both of whom are also 7, will compete in a county-wide competition on March 3. For the competition, they have to write and star in a skit about a self-centered person. Catherine's mother, Michelle Zysk, is their coach.

"They have to do everything by themselves. They have to come up with the costumes, write the script and build the set," Zysk said.

That sounds like a tall order for six second- and third-graders, but it works.

As of the end of January, the team has come up with a script starring a selfish character who, in order to unlawfully get brownies, masquerades as the president, as played by Sakhamuri, but eventually gets his comeuppance.

They "wrote" it by brainstorming ideas with Zysk, who wrote them down and kept the children on task. They have also started building a set and are beginning to come up with costume ideas.

As a coach, Zysk is there to supervise and encourage, but she and the other parents are not allowed to help with even the tiniest details. After a cardboard backdrop would not stand up anymore after being painted, she had to let the kids figure out a way to prop it up by themselves.

"They're very good about letting me know when I go too far. I'll say something, and they'll say, 'That's a great idea, but now we can't use it,'" Zysk said. "It can get frustrating. We don't realize how much we micromanage as parents."

Although she is on the Colvin Run team, Melody Stone actually attends Great Falls Elementary School. Her mother, Nariko Stone, was the coach there last year, but this year not enough students were interested and Melody was hooked.

"A lot of kids in Fairfax County have too many other after-school activities," Stone said. "They don't have time for this. It's a lot of work, but it's amazing what the kids can do."

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