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Odysseys brought students to competition

By Erik Lacayo / The Fresno Bee

Taryn Fagundes' odyssey to this weekend included three months of practice to become the princess Cinderella -- in her own mind at least.

Nine-year-old Taryn and some of her fourth-grade classmates at Kit Carson Elementary School in Hanford were among 250 students from the San Joaquin Valley who participated in the South/Central Valley Region finals Saturday at Hanford High School for the worldwide Odyssey of the Mind competition.

Mark Lopes, the competition's state director, said Odyssey of the Mind challenges students to work together in teams to find creative solutions to problems.

The students from Kit Carson were dressed as princes and princesses in a skit they performed in front of judges. The characters were supposed to be humorous and find creative ways to trick and surprise each other.

"We thought it was going to be a big, bad mess," said Taryn, in a white princess gown. "But it worked out."

Heidi Graham, a fourth-grade teacher at Kit Carson, said it was the first year students at the school took part in the event.

Graham said she only was allowed to guide the students as they prepared for Saturday. The skit was entirely made up by the students, she said.

"The hardest part was not being able to tell them what to do," she said. "As a teacher, I want to tell them what to do. I'm good at doing that."

After their skit, Taryn said she hoped her team would advance to the state finals, which will be held March 31 at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia.

Winners of the state competition will advance to the world competition at Michigan State University in May.

In one of the events where students performed skits, they pretended to travel the world and explained about the locations they visited. That particular competition was sponsored by NASA, Lopes said.

Other exercises required students to build something as a team and solve a secret problem.

Fourth-grader Cheyanne Walker, 9, said she had fun Saturday because she got to hit one of her teammates in the face with a pie during their skit.

Cheyanne and her classmates from Oak Grove Elementary School in Visalia were using the time between events to practice stacking blocks, using ropes instead of their hands.

Hannah Frolli, 9, said the team from Oak Grove already had qualified with its skit for the state competition in March.

Her father and the team's coach, Marty Frolli, said the exercises taught students the meaning of working as a team.

"It gives them the opportunity to think creative," he said.

Barb Armon was at Hanford High School on Saturday with her daughter, Tricia, 9, and a group from El Portal Elementary School in Mariposa County.

Armon said it was worth making the long drive because while practicing with classmates before the competition, her daughter had the chance to make new friends at a new school.

Said Armon: "It's helped her a lot in being part of something."

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