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Two Pennsbury teams heading to world competition

By: Petra Chesner Schlatter

Two teams from Pennsbury school district are heading to the World Finals Competition of Odyssey of the Mind at Michigan State University May 23-26.

One team from Afton Elementary School and the team from Pennsbury High School each placed second in the state competition held April 14 in Altoona, Pa.

Odyssey of the Mind is a problem-solving contest whereby teams compete at regional, state and worldwide levels. The contest allows teams to showcase their energy, intellect, creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills. Teams spend up to five months preparing for this regional competition.

"We can say Pennsbury has kept its record in tact by sending two teams to this year's World Finals Competition," said Elliot Alexander, assistant to the superintendent for Pennsbury School District. "This is the 23rd consecutive year we've had at least one team go to finals every year since the competition began." The competition started in 1994.

Last weekend, one of Afton's two teams, which went to states, solved a problem called, "Tag 'em." The high school team won for solving a problem called, "Around the World in 8 Minutes."

Dave Bowman, assistant principal at Pennsbury East Campus, said, "We're extremely proud of their effort, dedication and accomplishments. We look forward to the continued success that they bring to the district and the community."

Elaine Novet, an asstistant principal at Afton and East, said, "It's amazing!! I'm part of the Pennsbury family. And Afton is part of Pennsbury. I am so proud of the students. I have heard they and their parents have worked so hard. It's just wonderful."

About the high school's win, Novet said, "I've been at the high school for most of my career, 25+ years. Again, I am so proud of them. The work that it takes getting there - you have to be devoted and dedicated.

"There's a connection," Novet continued. "Those Afton kids will be high school kids. They learn that devotion and take it all the way up to the high school level. You'll probably see those same students take it all the way to the high school. And the parents, the community, the sfaff - everybody is so supportive of the students."

Novet, who has been helping out at Afton in recent months, said, "When I came to Afton, they always called it the Afton Family - there's such a connection between the school and the community. Anything with these kids I am so proud of these kids. I say, 'Go, teams!!'"

Helen Stopper, assistant principal at William Penn Middle School, said her school's teams placed fourth and sixth at states. At the regional level, her school placed second.

What did her students learn from the Odyssey of the Mind experience? "It is all higher learning thinking skills - analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing."

Stopper described the youths' mood, "The students feel exuberant - they're honored to be part of a team.

"We're also proud of the kids and their accomplishments," Stopper continued. "Hopefully, this will be a special memory for them for the rest of their lives."

Norm Gross, principal at Afton Elementary, said he was proud that his school had three teams, which entered the regional competition earlier this year. "I feel the same way about all three teams," he said. "They worked together from October through March in preparation for the regional competition. They developed an understanding of teamwork and cooperation. They developed a greater awareness of respect for their team mates and by and large developed new friendships.

"They were exposed to a level of critical thinking that is not often easily realized within the context of the school day," Gross said. "They went off to the regional competition in March, and, by all accounts, represented Afton Elementary School and the Pennsbury school district exceedingly well. I'm proud of all three teams."

When asked to define Odyssey of the Mind, Gross said it is "a brain-power and problem-solving competition. It has two distinct phases upon which all teams are judged. Phase one is a long-term project where the children develop creative means to solve a historical scientific- or literature-based problem through an eight-minute skit.

"The second phase," he continued, "is spontaneous response in which teams respond rapid fire within two minutes to a prompt. That's the nature of the competition.

"Our 'Around the World in 8 Minutes' and 'Tag 'em' teams scored well enough in the long term and the spontaneous elements to move on to the state competition," Gross said.

Schools, which competed at the state level in Altoona last weekend were: two teams from Afton Elementary School, two teams from William Penn Middle School and one team from Pennsbury High School.


From one competitor's point of view:

Michael Dratch, 10, was on the Afton Elementary-team, which made it to regionals, but the team won the fifth place, solving the problem, "Around the World in 8 Days". His team will not head to the world finals. Still, competing at the state level was a first for him and he anticipated a good experience there.

Michael likes traveling with his brothers. "He's gone with his brother's team," said his mother and coach Marney Dratch. "They went four years in a row. He's really excited that this is his team and his turn."

Michael, a fourth-grader at Afton Elementary, said before heading to the state-level, "We're going on a really fun trip. We've made it this far, we did a great job. We just should be very proud of ourselves.

"We learned to be creative and think outside of the box - how to think in other ways," Michael said. "We also learn how to work with the teams and we learn how to act. Eventually, we just have a great time doing that."

For 10-year-old Cassie Rosenfeld, also a fourth-grader at Afton, this is her first year in the competition. "It's like a whole other adventure in your life," she said. "It's like something you never thought you would do.

"Creativity," the youth said, "comes in many ways - the different ways to make and build things. It's just really cool - all the different ways you can do stuff!"

Currently, more than 14,000 Pennsylvania students participate in the Odyssey of the Mind program. For competition purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is divided into eight regions of which one is the Southwest region, in which Afton Elementary competed. First- and second-place winners move on to the state competition.

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