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Students on mental Odyssey

Charlotte Hsu, Staff Writer

Richardson Prep Hi team to compete in state contest

SAN BERNARDINO - In this imagined world, Richardson Prep Hi eighth-grader James Vasquez is French. He is a captain leading a team of bacteria in a do-or-die match against a feisty group of white blood cells.

Sporting a petulant attitude, he'll do anything to win - even if it means cheating.

James' role as a bacteria leader is part of a skit that won him and four of his classmates a trip to Visalia today.

The team of five won the regional Odyssey of the Mind tournament earlier this month, winning the tournament's Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award.

James, along with sixth-graders Kody Acevedo and Ryan Rittenhouse and seventh-graders Davis Bjur and Cara Harnitchek, will compete in the state Odyssey contest today. The competition asks students to perform an array of creative tasks that range from designing a skit to building small vehicles.

"It presents a real challenge where you have to compete against other people," Davis said.

The kids wrote the script without help. They made costumes and props, and Cara, a drama lover who plays the white blood cells' captain, practiced a surfer-dude accent for her character.

Davis said the team works well because "we all have different personalities."

"Especially Davis," Kody says jokingly.

The group agreed that Davis, who plays a rambunctious announcer, is the most hyper of the bunch - in a good way.

All five youths participated in Odyssey while at Belvedere Elementary School. Coached by parents Linda Rittenhouse and Susie Vasquez, the team is the first Richardson Prep Hi has had in recent years.

For Cara, Odyssey is a family affair.

Her mother, Melisa Harnitchek, is a team coach at Belvedere, where Cara's grandmother, Marylin Knuckey, started an Odyssey of the Mind program 20 years ago.

Knuckey said Odyssey fills a void in education.

Parents tend to take over endeavors such as science projects that are supposed to test kids' ability to innovate, Knuckey said.

Odyssey forbids parents from becoming involved in children's work, meaning students are able to exercise their creative energy, she said.

"It seems to me that the parents get so involved that the children aren't doing it," she said. "That's the good thing about Odyssey - that you let the children do all the thinking and deciding and learning to work as a team."

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