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Lexington students take on Odyssey of the Mind

BY PAT McKEE * pmckee@news-press.com * April 4, 2009
Creative thinking, full of energy and a lot of fun.

All those descriptions fit three teams of students at Lexington Middle School who have been making final preparations this week for today's state competition in the Odyssey of the Mind program.

An international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college, the Lexington units are among 36 teams from 25 schools in Lee County that earned spots in the state event at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Top finishers qualify for the 30th annual World Finals May 27-30 at Iowa State University in Ames.

"This is about out-of-the box thinking where a group performs a skit based on guidelines given at the beginning of the (school) year," said eighth-grader Rachael Chesnover, 14, a member of Lexington's "Lost Labor of Heracles" squad, who has participated in Odyssey of the Mind events for nine years.

"There's also a spontaneous part, and that's the most challenging because you never know what you will do."

Cherie Allison, assistant principal at Lexington and coordinator of the school's program, has first-hand evidence of the program.

Two of her children, eighth-grader Conner and sixth-grader Nicole, are on Lexington teams.

"There are the long-term problems where kids work for months in coming up with the best solution," Allison said. "There also are style points associated with that portion, while the spontaneous part adds another element.

"But the best part of the program is it combines a whole variety of kids. It's not necessarily all (National Junior Honor Society) kids. It's kids from all different (academic) levels. The most important trait is being creative."

There was no shortage of that quality as the "Heracles," "Superstitions" and "Teach Yer Creature" groups rehearsed eight-minute skits --solutions to their long-term problems --this week.

For example, the "Superstitions" group must create and present a performance that includes two documented superstitions, an original superstition created by the team and events that caused the original superstition to come to be. The performance also is to include a funny narrator, a costume worn by two or more team members at the same time and a stage set with costs limited to $125. During the performance the same stage set items must be used to change from one setting to another.

"You have to use your brain and work together to brainstorm," said eighth-grader Gabi Hersch, 14, part of the "Superstitions" team. "You also have constructive criticism to work on ideas. Other times you have to reject ideas, but you have to do so nicely because you're still working with those people."

Glen Andree and Morganne Evans, two more eighth-graders on the "Superstitions" team, said competition is challenging.

"With sound effects and people entering and leaving, timing is important," Glen said. "It can make or break a performance."

Noted Morganne: "What the audience sees is not all that's there. There are all kinds of requirements that have to be met."

Sixth-grader Leah Barter, 11, a member of the "Teach Yer Creature" group, said she liked how the program combines multiple areas of learning.

"Math, science, reading and history all are part of it," she said. "At the same time, you're having fun thinking and working together."

Teammate Shane Heindl, 12, another sixth-grader, said he liked the positive approach to finding solutions.

"We learn not to say 'no,' 'not,' 'can't' and all negative words," he said. "We're focused on using creativity to solve things."

Emily Tracy, an eighth-grader on the "Heracles" team, agreed.

"This gives you different perspectives and shows there are different ways to figure things out," Emily said. "It's something everybody should do."

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