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Kittery kids win Odessey of the Mind awards

By Sarah Brown and Peter Thomas
April 10, 2008 6:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine -- In their first year competing in the Odyssey of the Mind program, two teams from Kittery's Frisbee Elementary School placed in the Maine state OotM competition this past weekend in Augusta.

Parent Peter Thomas produced the trophies Kittery's students won at a budget workshop Monday night held by the Town Council and School Committee. He said they demonstrate the quality of the town's schools, something Thomas believes will be lost if the council's plan to make deep budget cuts in order to keep the tax rate at $14 per $1,000 of assessed value goes forward.

"It's amazing what Kittery's hard-working kids pulled off in their first attempt at this, especially considering their backdrop," said Thomas. "The school system has been hollowed out by the federal government, thrown into turmoil by the state, shunned by its neighbors (in the consolidation effort) and openly despised by some of their own town leaders.

"But Kittery faced off against the state's veteran powerhouses and top performing schools, and both our teams placed," he said.

Nearly 800 children, from third grade to high school, participated in the state contest held this year at Cony High School.

Students from all over the state gathered in Augusta on Saturday for the all-day event, vying against each other in various contests of the intellect, creativity and spontaneous problem-solving.

Neither of Frisbee's teams had ever participated or competed in an Odyssey of the Mind format. Their wins were a pleasant surprise to families, friends and school officials.

The two Kittery teams, both made up of a mix of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, have been practicing for over three months. Odyssey of the Mind has strict guidelines about how the kids solve their problems, with rule No. 1 being no guidance from parents, teachers or coaches. The teams must come up with their own solutions and designs, produce and write their own scripts, and hand-make all props and costumes.

Mother and daughter Colleen and Louise Harris coached an all-girl Frisbee team, which chose the Eccentrics as a problem, taking third place in its age group.

"It's really incredible," said Katie Peternell of her daughter's performance and effort on the team. "We were just so thrilled that they had a chance to do this. We never thought they'd actually win."

The Eccentrics team had to produce a performance that solved a problem in one of the Earth's systems. The show had to feature three eccentric characters and demonstrate the starting of a "fad" from the problem solved. This particular problem was designed and sponsored by NASA.

"Towards the end, we were working on it every day," said 8-year-old Daria Barbour. "But as much work as it was, I never got tired of it. It was so much fun!"

Fourth-grade teacher Andrew Weatherhead was the coach for Frisbee's other OotM team, and that team chose the Road Rally problem, which required it to hand-make a vehicle that could successfully perform four tasks -- all of this also within a creative performance. Weatherhead's team garnered second place in its division, which means it qualifies for the World OotM tournament in Maryland this summer.

"These kids have really worked hard," said Weatherhead. "This was not an easy problem to solve, but they all contributed and their design worked."

The three coaches received no compensation for the hundreds of hours dedicated to their teams.

"It's just a fabulous program," said parent Amy Driscoll. "These kids had to solve a complex problem all on their own and be creative at the same time. That's a lesson we all could use."

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