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Three schools excel, advance in Odyssey of Mind games

By Ashlei N. Stevens Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 | Updated: 9:43 am ARTICLE OPTIONS
When Vanessa Jimenez didn't hear her school's named called quickly on Saturday, she was discouraged, thinking that her teammates didn't earn an award at the state Odyssey of the Mind competition. But a few minutes later, when W.H. Chapman Elementary School was announced as a first-place winner, Jimenez beamed.

"I learned to have faith," said 11-year-old Vanessa. "I was praying a lot, and when they called out our name, I was really happy."

This is the first year that Chapman has ever had an Odyssey team. Their creative thinking, teamwork and problem-solving skills earned the seven students a first-place win over the weekend at state competition, and they'll be the first team from Spartanburg School District 7 to send a competing team to World Finals from May 31 through June 3.

"It will be an experience of a lifetime for these kids," said Karen Horton, a fifth-grade teacher and Odyssey coach at Chapman. "Chapman Elementary has some of the best kids in South Carolina, and social status says nothing about what these kids can do. They amaze me."

Two other local schools were top winners as well. Fairforest Elementary School had two teams that each won second place, and Boiling Springs Intermediate School's team also won a second-place award. This is the first year that these two schools have fielded an Odyssey team, and they too will get to compete at World Finals.

"It's an awesome experience," Odyssey State Director Cindy Byars said of World Finals, in which teams from more than 25 countries will compete at the University of Maryland at College Park. Statewide, 45 teams competed at Busbee Creative Arts Academy in Columbia on Saturday.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international problem-solving competition formed 30 years ago that is open to students in kindergarten through college. Participating schools can have up to seven members on a team, and they must choose one of five long-term problems to solve with less than $150 to spend.

Each team also earns competition points for the "Spontaneous" category, which is where judges give a team a problem to solve on the spot.

They also earn points for overall style.

Chapman won first place in the Tee Structure, in which students must create a structure out of balsa wood and glue that must support immense weight. The students created and tested several tee structures over the past few months, some of which could support about 200 pounds. While two students added weight to the structure, five other team members from Chapman performed an original skit.

Boiling Springs Intermediate's team competed in the Odyssey Road Rally, in which students design, build and operate a vehicle that must perform certain tasks.

"They definitely learned how to work together with a team, because they had to all pull together to make this work," Boiling Springs' Odyssey coach Melissa Slater said. "They realized if they weren't all doing their part, it wasn't all going to come together."

At Fairforest Elementary, coach Stephanie Wofford said she was in tears when her two teams won top awards. One team competed in DinoStories, where students write a skit on their theory about how dinosaurs became extinct. The other team competed in The Wonderful Muses, creating an original performance about one of the nine Greek muses and incorporating music and poetry into their work.

"They learn to think a little differently and use critical thinking," Wofford said. "They find solutions to problems that most people just don't think of every day."

At Chapman, students put their talents into their performance and learned something new. Tyler Bunch, an artist, designed the backdrop, while fifth-grader Lacey Hughes painted it. Jimenez wrote the script, while creative writer Boris Olarte added touches of humor. Charlie Arvizu and Jeremy Belcher, fourth-graders, helped build the tee structure, and they said they both learned about patience.

"I learned that when it's time to play, you can play, but you need to stop and work hard sometimes," said Tommy Littlejohn, 10.

World competition is a first for all three schools, and participants are searching for ways to raise money to send the students to the nation's capital. Chapman coach Crystal Weathers estimates that it will cost about $7,000 to send her students.

"It will be something they never forget, and they'll get to interact with kids from other countries," Weathers said. "They worked hard, and we had a good time doing it."

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