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Kids at PS 36 compete in Odyssey of the Mind regional contest

By Diane Lore
Fifth-grade students at PS 36 in Annadale show their third-place ribbons won at the regional Odyssey of the Mind competition.

STATEN ISLAND, NY - ANNADALE -- Teams of creative students from PS 36 competed in their first-ever New York State Odyssey of the Mind regional contest a few weeks ago - and they walked away with two of the top trophies.

Two of the teams placed third in the region during the competition and presentation which took place at the Rosemary Kennedy Center in Wantagh, L.I.

Odyssey of the Mind is a worldwide program for children in elementary school through college. Each team consists of seven students who have to work together to present a skit of no more than eight minutes. They must spend no more than $125 for staging and costumes, and their parents and teachers cannot lend a hand. Students must make the background scenery, props, costumes and dialogue on their own. They risk disqualification or penalties if a panel of judges finds there was adult help involved.

The skit is performed in a "locked out" room, and no one may enter or leave until the panel of judges is finished questioning and scoring contestants.

Students can create a skit from one of several categories. Fifth-graders at PS 36 performed a skit from the "Discovered Treasures" category. Their performance focused on a mysterious and missing fictional "Baghdad Battery."

The performance included a newsroom scene and a song and dance routine reworked to the lyrics of the song "It's a New Day" by Will.I.Am.

Fifth-grader Robert DeForge, 10, was in charge of rounding up items to use for props and scenery. Using several large cardboard boxes, he and his teammates fashioned a "United Nations building" and another box was transformed into a television screen to deliver the "breaking story."

"We really had to be creative and use our imaginations," DeForge said.

His classmate, Jessica Savino, 10, had the part of the news reporter and anchor of the mock newscast. "It was fun. I had to ask spontaneous questions, as if I was interviewing someone on TV," she explained.

Meanwhile, part of the script called for students to wear "futuristic costumes," resulting in fifth-grader Vianna Passalacqua, 10, appearing wrapped from head to toe in aluminum foil. "That was fun," she declared.

Students worked on the project since December. Under the supervision of faculty coaches Suzanne Amato and Jessica Bello, and with support from Principal Barbara Bellafatto, they got together after school several times a week to write the script, discuss details and finally rehearse for the performance.

Students in second- and third-grades also participated in the Odyssey of the Mind program. Third-graders wrote and performed a skit called "Food Court" while a second-grade team performed "A Surprise Party." It's hoped by the time they are fifth-graders these students will be able to make PS 36 an annual contender in the regional competition.

"It's really a wonderful program," said Mrs. Bellafatto. "It challenges kids. It teaches them to work together and to think creatively to problem-solve, and that problems can be solved by thinking 'outside the box'," she said.

And that could well be the best lesson.

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