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North Coast schools in world finals

The Press Democrat

A team of Santa Rosa elementary students met after school Wednesday to hone skills already taking them to the world finals of Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving competition.

The team from Austin Creek Elementary team will join teams from Santa Rosa Middle School and Willits High at the University of Maryland in May to match wits with teams from throughout the United States and several countries.

The North Coast schools earned their spots by taking first or second place in their divisions in a state competition, and are three of six teams representing California in the World Finals.

"It is a great honor. We all worked so hard," said 10-year-old Anika Dhar, the senior member of the Austin Creek team. "It will be awesome to actually be in a world competition."

For several members of the Willits High team, it will be their third year going to the world competition.

Willits freshman Mackenzie Kirkpatrick said he's feeling good about the trip and recommended the program to others.

"It's a really fun thing. It helps your creativity and helps you in school," said Kirkpatrick, 15.

Successful teams must demonstrate multiple talents. They offer judges their solutions to a particular problem, and also must perform a skit and be able to think on their feet to answer questions without knowing the topic in advance.

Teams typically begin working on projects in the fall for the spring competitions. They are coached after school, most often by a parent.

Santa Rosa Middle School's team is "over the moon" at making the world finals, said Dorothy Fast, a team coach. Its six members include Fast's seventh-grade daughter, Martha.

This team tackled a literary problem requiring members to choose a muse who may have inspired a real person from history as well as a character the students create, Fast said.

They chose Urania, the muse of astronomy and astrology, and had her inspire a Mayan king who developed a calendar system.

"It stretches kids in so many ways," Fast said.

The Santa Rosa Middle School team finished second out of 16 teams in its division.

Austin Creek, which is in the Rincon Valley school district, has had a team in the Odyssey program for many years, but this one has advanced the furthest. The team of seven elementary students includes six third-graders and Anika. They took first place in their 13-team division.

The elementary students tackled a balsa wood structure problem. They had to build a T-structure that weighed no more than 18 grams (about half an ounce). It had to be as strong as possible.

Their structure weighed 17.24 grams and supported 315 pounds before collapsing.

There is a long tradition in Willits of students being involved in the program, said Willits High Principal Gordon Oslund, whose freshman son is on the high school team and has been on a Willits team since third grade.

Oslund said he believed this latest win means five Willits teams have reached the world finals in about 10 years of competing.

Among the schools that participated at the state level were Maria Carrillo High, Village Elementary, Windsor Middle School, Rincon Valley Charter and Hidden Valley Elementary.

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