| Burlington Free Press |
Minds in motion

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007
By Julia Melloni

HINESBURG -- Eleven-year-old Jill Rathke and her teammates from Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury learned the value of honesty and humility while creating a skit about a self-centered person for the 28th Annual Vermont Odyssey of the Mind Tournament on Saturday

"If you're not truthful, then no one will want to be around you," Rathke said.

One hundred and six teams of school-age children from across Vermont showed off their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills at the tournament at Champlain Valley Union High School. Over 1,000 students competed in six different categories that required them to perform tasks ranging from making balsa wood structures and designing vehicles to performing skits and solving problems on the spot without adult assistance.

Members of the Crossett Brook team wore colorful costumes and playful make-up for their humorous performance about bullying in the "I'm only thinking of you" competition.

"Our self-centered person was always taking advantage of people, lying, saying 'I'm only thinking of you' so people would do what he wanted," Rathke said. "But he messed up and all his tricks backfired on him in the end."

The team was excited about how well they did but cautious after winning their division last year in the States competition and advancing to the World finals.

"We came in first last year but then came in 32nd out of 75 teams at Worlds, so we've learned to not expect to win," said team member Kira Wollensak, 11. "We just want to do our best and have fun."

Each year Odyssey of the Mind International poses specific questions with open ended solutions to challenge kids to look beyond the obvious when problem solving. The rules are strict but interpretations for solutions are very loose.

Vermont Odyssey of the Mind Association Director Timothy Perkins said that under the competition's philosophy, all the teams that present a solution are winners because they beat the problem.

Many participants and parents Saturday lauded the imaginative and creative aspects of Odyssey of the Mind, but said the real growth comes from kids working together as a group to find innovative solutions to problems.

The rules state that adults may not help kids or make suggestions. Coach Gina Mireault from the Crossett Brook team said that rule teaches adults a good lesson, too.

"This curriculum requires kids to think in unusual ways and it's great for adults because it teaches them that you have to stay out of it and let the kids think for themselves," Mireault said.

The coach from Williston's Allen Brook School found that the kids in her team were learning more than problem solving through Odyssey of the Mind.

"This is our first year and it's a wonderful experience," coach Polly Malik said. "I saw the kids grow not only in what they were doing for problem solving but as friends and teammates."

In the Allen Brook team's skit a singer who lost her voice still wanted fame and fortune so she promised people money if they'd lip sync for her. In the end she was found out and humiliated.

"The lesson was for the singer to learn not to use people, so basically she lost and a poor girl who was a good singer became famous," said team member Hannah Williams, 8.

Said teammate Jackson Bisaccia, 8, of the overall competition: "Our expectations today were to have fun and try our best and everything else would fall into place."

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