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Pasco Schools Send Brightest Into Battle

By MEGAN HUSSEY Tribune correspondent
Published: Apr 14, 2007

As an Odyssey of the Mind coach at Calusa Elementary, Robin Fish, was impressed when her team was among 27 Pasco teams that qualified at regionals to compete at the state level of the Odyssey of the Mind competition, to take place today at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. And as a parent, she was proud that her son Landon was among those team members set to compete.

As a Calusa teacher, she is thrilled by the difference the competition has made in the lives of her students.

"Odyssey competitors learn to think on a higher level," she said. "They're more creative, more able to think on their feet. They work better with others, and their writing samples are better."

What is Odyssey of the Mind, and how does it make such a difference in the lives of young competitors?

According to floridaodyssey.org, Odyssey of the Mind "is a creative problem-solving program for students [kindergarten through 12th grade] and college. It provides teams with the opportunity to learn creative problem solving, teamwork, brainstorming, self-reliance, and respect for individual strengths."

"Life doesn't come in the form of 'bubble in' test answers," said Freda Abercrombie, regional director of the Gulf Coast Odyssey of the Mind region, which includes Pasco and Hernando counties. "Odyssey teaches creative thinking, problem solving, and thinking on your feet."

At regional, state and world levels, students work together to create projects in accordance with six problems presented them. This year, the problems are Tag 'em, in which students design and build small vehicles that make trips and get "tagged" for scoring purposes; The Large and Small of It, in which teams create and perform a skit involving the changing size and scale of objects; Classics ... Around the World in Eight Minutes, in which teams design and create skits about a tour of different geographic locations, and of one "undiscovered" location the team conceptualizes themselves; Out of the Box Balsa, in which the team designs and builds a structure made of balsa wood that balances and supports weights; I'm Only Thinking of You!, in which teams create and present humorous skits that revolve around a complex, self-centered character; and the Time Capsule, in which primary teams create a skit that revolves around a time capsule that contains five unusual items created by the team.
Fostering Creative Thinking

Competing in the Division I elementary division of this year's Odyssey of the Mind competition are San Antonio, Sand Pine, Calusa, Cypress, Lake Myrtle, Longleaf, Deer Park, Marlowe, Sanders Memorial, Wesley Chapel, Mittye P. Locke, Quail Hollow and Fox Hollow elementaries and Bishop Larkin Catholic School.

In the Division II middle school division, Seven Springs, Pine View, River Ridge, Dr. John Long, Thomas E. Weightman middle schools and Bishop Larkin Catholic School are competing.

In the Division III high school division, J.W. Mitchell, Land O' Lakes, Ridgewood, Gulf, River Ridge and Wesley Chapel qualified.

Those who win at state level will travel to Lansing, Mich., on May 23-26 for the world Odyssey of the Mind competition.

At Calusa Elementary, coaches Robin and Scott Fish oversee the team of Landon Fish, Jordan Duckworth, Thomas Moschner, Evan Ward, and Destiny McMahon. They are tackling the Tag 'Em challenge.

"Win or lose, I know I'll learn from this experience and make lots of friends," said 10-year-old Thomas Moschner, a Calusa fourth-grader. "I've learned new words and better sportsmanship."

At Thomas E. Weightman Middle School, Abercrombie oversees the team of Michael Sikes, Ayanna Stewart, Lauren Perez, Meghan Novotny, Kasey Tanner and Jordan Garrett. These students tackled the problem of "I'm Only Thinking of You."

"Odyssey is a great experience. You see the most creative people of my age there," said Michael Sikes, 14. "It teaches problem solving and thinking outside the box."

"At Odyssey I feel like an actress in a play," said Lauren Perez, 14.

Three teams and 18 students representing Lake Myrtle Elementary School are going to state. Tackling the problem Around the World in Eight Minutes is the team of Madeleine Berg, Grace Bunch, Elise Herbert, Jackie Johnson, Courtney Moya and Helena Polansky.

Madison Cooper, Nathan Honzelka, Sean Jackewicz, Cole Loren, Alexis Hill and Noah Thomas had I'm Only Thinking of You.

Taking on The Large and Small of It were Nicole Dunleavy, Kacie Joff, Gabriella Rivera, John Rivera, Olivia Velesco and Alli Walther.

Team coaches are Darlene Polansky, Michelle Sanderson and Harriet Robbins.

"It's a wonderful feeling to be going to state," said Jackie Johnson, 11. "It's so cool."

"You can build things and get dirty," said Helena Polansky, 11.

Courtney Moya, 11, says that the prospect of going to the state competition is "kind of scary because you want to do so good."

Ten-year-old Elise Herbert likes the Odyssey competition because "You have to [do] everything on your own. We think things out ourselves."
No Adult Help For Answers

At Longleaf Elementary, two teams are going to the state competition. "These students have to learn to work together and to bring their individual strengths to complete the team," said Sandi Curtis, a Longleaf teacher and Odyssey coach. "They address very vague problems with no adult help."

Addressing the problem Around the World in Eight Minutes is Elena Krischunas, Lisa Sellitto, Christina Aguis, Nicole Cavaliere and Brittany Moffett.

Taking on I'm Only Thinking of You are Stephen Cavaliere, Jackie Freitas, Chris Konow, Evan Roberson and Katie Meisner.

In addition, Longleaf primary student Paul Grassi will perform the Large and Small of It at state.

"In Odyssey, you learn to react differently to others' decisions," said Lisa, 11, "to be more accepting of them and open."

At Marlowe Elementary, Mitchell Berg, Joshua Alkire, Maria Hernandez, Rayne Jenkins, Emilia Kalogiannis, Brooke McCann, and Chantell Hildebrand will go Around the World in Eight Minutes at the state competition.

"Odyssey teaches the kids that it's not all about them," said Marlowe teacher and Odyssey coach Tricia Newton. "They learn to strategize and work on teams."

"We know our whole school is cheering us on," said Emilia, 11.

Mittye P. Locke Elementary will send two teams to the state level this year with coaches Susan Foster and Sharon Lane.

"Our teams had the I'm Only Thinking of You challenge, which required writing, acting and set making skills, and Out of the Box Balsa, which involved building skills," said coach Susan Foster, who also has judged Odyssey competitions. "Odyssey is an endlessly enlightening experience that's hard to leave behind."

Mittye P. Locke students going to the state are Julide IaIye, Baylor Cherry, Sheldon Cooper, Madison Morlan, Catherine Long, Grafton Long, Jennifer Stewart, Thomas Munro, Keli McKenna and Warner Van Of.

"This is a big project, but you're working with friends," said Thomas, 10.

"It's important to work together, set aside your differences and have a good time," said Julide, 11.
Working Together

Pine View Middle School is sending two teams to the state. Coach Molly Bacon said participating students have shown an impressive work ethic and established a voting system to settle team disagreements.

Representing the school at the state-level Odyssey this year are Bacon's team, consisting of Devin Sequeira, Jason Ryan, Jesse Holloway, Mandy Bacon, Delaney Suarez and Kaila Meerovitz, and Lois Hooper's team, consisting of Victoria Padgett, Kendrick Lewis, Lara Alexander, Anastasia Maglorie, Curtis Okolovitch and Sarah Collins.

Sandi Wall and Allison LaGrande head this year's Odyssey team at Sanders Memorial. "Through Odyssey, the kids learn to delegate responsibilities and think outside the box," Wall said. "It enhances their critical thinking skills and encourages them to perfect and enhance whatever they do."

Sanders students taking on the Out of the Box Balsa challenge were James Chmielewski, Jerimiah King, Blake Jennings, Zachary Zumbrunn, Tristan Wike, Jordan Mark and Cara Coughlin.

"You have to try out different ideas to get it right in the competition," said Zachary, 9. Seven Springs Middle School is sending two teams to state this year. One team consists of Jimmy Carson, Austin Roessel, Andrew Karay, Joseph Gargano, Timmy Green, and Greg Hovsepian; another consists of Nick Cicone, Stephanie Jackman, Aaron Ahlgrim, Jake Ponce De Leon, Kelly Moran, Chelsie Blackwell and James Maraffi.

Austin, Timmy and Greg all competed in last year's world Odyssey competition.

"I traded pins with people from other countries," said Austin, 12.

"At Odyssey, you get to do, think and build everything," said Jimmy, 12.
No Right Or Wrong Answer

I'm Only Thinking of You is the problem adopted by the Ridgewood High School team, which consists of Stephen Varner, Nicole DeCaprio, Mark Mai, Mesja Ramos, Chris Ross, Matt Chauncey and Lindsey Christiansen.

"Odyssey isn't like a test, where there's a right and wrong answer," said coach Charlene Byrd.

Darlene Mauro has coordinated the Odyssey teams at River Ridge Middle and High and Deer Park Elementary schools for 10 years. "I just can't get enough of Odyssey," she said. "Students learn everything from performing arts to math and science."

This year, one Deer Park team will address the Large and the Small of It program. The team consists of Samantha Bowers, Jessie Boykin, Celena Heesch, Stephanie Kirves, Kristen Lee and Grace Lulewicz.

Another Deer Park team consists of Dylan Clarke, Jason Dovydaitis, David Graniero, Ian Hallisey, Max Martin, Michael Mekus and Christopher Worrell. Susan Dovydaitis and Lynn Graniero coach this team, which will address the problem Around the World in Eight Minutes.

Tackling Around the World in Eight Minutes at River Ridge Middle will be the team of Thomas Fiorillo, Lukas Hibell, Janie McQueeny, Lauren Platt, Katie Penick, Joey Spissak and Marco Martinez. Marcine Theurello is the teacher.

Also at River Ridge Middle, Chris Dodson, Mike Dodson, Chris Hahn, Kristina Kanaan, Ashlee Kehoe, Dana Mauro. Barbara Dodson and Karen Hahn coach this team, which went to the world level last year.

"All kids should be involved in Odyssey," said Barbara Dodson. "Once a kid has participated in Odyssey, anything that stands in front of them in life they can accomplish."

Chris Dodson, 13, agrees.

"This is my eighth year in Odyssey," he said. "It helps you solve problems in school and other areas."

A third River Ridge Middle Odyssey team, which will address the problem I'm Only Thinking of You, consists of Savannah Brazzeul, Jasmine Campbell, Katherine Coleman, Hannah Fregger, Chantal Gendebien and Taylor McCague. Coaches are Cheryl Gendebien and Tanisha Petrou.

Addressing the problem Around the World in Eight Minutes at River Ridge High School will be Brendon Bishop, Katie Fiorillo, Bragen Frank, Erina Odorisio, Will Sexauer and Katie Sweeney.

At Wesley Chapel Elementary, Pam Willoughby heads an Out of the Box Balsa team that consists of Ted Willoughby, Laura Bernaldo, Cody Roberts, Autumn Cooper, Lauren Tremblay, Breanna Stevens and Taylor Maples.

"Ted says we're going to world," Pam Willoughby said of her 10-year-old son. "This is such a creative challenge for them; there's so much going on at Odyssey."

Heather Wallen, school coordinator at Sand Pine Elementary, said team building and working together are important skills learned through Odyssey.

The Sand Pine balsa wood team is coached by Jane Buikema, and consists of students Tyler Fitzsimons, Samantha Cenicola, Connor Buikema, Austin Stroup, Nicholas Ketchum, Ellen Lovelace and Eric Boudreaux.

The Tag 'em team, coached by Doris Schmitt, will consist of students Crystal Schmitt, Sabrina Schmitt, Chris Stopha, Nicholas Yanez, Alex Keeney, Alex Cypriano and Kayla Lawson.

At Fox Hollow Elementary, Odyssey coordinator Christine Taylor and coaches Grace Swanson and Melissa Jarvis head up two Odyssey teams this year.

One consists of Angel Miller, Michael Jarvis, Haley O'Connell, Sarah Moyer, Nikole Roberts, Alina Palubinskas and Lokys Palubinskas.

It's the third trip to state for Lokys Palubinskas, who defines the event as challenging and far-reaching.

"You see the best coasts of Florida," he said.
Growth And Glitter

Michael Jarvis and Sarah defined OM as a fun, positive experience.

"As these kids prepare for Odyssey, my house is coated with glitter, their clothes are speckled with paint, and I feel such joy for them," Swanson said. "They're so young, and their accomplishments are astonishing."

At Cypress Elementary, coaches Beth Vogel and Eva Spissak head the team of Brian Vogel, Matthew Spissak, Rick Ryan, Nathan Dudeck, Mandy Carman and Halina Binder.

"It's amazing to see their growth and maturity," Beth Vogel said. "There's no arguing and a strong commitment."

Robin Gibson, media specialist at Land O' Lakes High School, said her school is sending four teams to the state Odyssey competition.

The Out of the Box Balsa team consists of Noor Shakfeh, Cara Barnes, Christina Reinhardt, Kate Ryan, Daniel Bavender, Michael Nobles and Shannon Cornett.

The Around the World in 8 Minutes team consists of Andrew Herridge, Joey Vars, Josh Nobles and Cayce Lay.

The Large and Small of It team consists of Matthew Phan, Kathy Callan, Courtney Gardner , Thomas DeLorenzo, Lauren Chan, Susie Lai and Emily Yelverton.

The I'm Only Thinking Of You team consists of Tyler Hisamoto, Rebecca Hisamoto, Chelsey Tejas, Taylor Rowand, Bryce Freeman, Casey Allen and. Nicole Hodgins.

Dr. John Long Middle School has two teams tackling Out of the Box Balsa. Team A, coached by Bryce Jardin and Jason Nardi, consists of Joshua Harding, Lindsey Cucore, Jesse Hu, Nathan Tindall, A.J. Nardi, and Rachel Jardin. Team B, coached by Amy Belisle and Deanna Sourke, consists of Anastasia Stroup, Kayla Fitzsimons, Brett Winston, Chase Belisle, Jordan Clements, Ian Sourke, and Chraistan Alvarez.

Melissa Olson, an Odyssey judge who teaches at San Antonio Elementary, said her school also will be represented.

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