When members of the fifth grade Warren St. Elementary team arrived from Johnstown to the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse for the statewide Odyssey of the Mind competition on Saturday, they found the event space looked a lot different than their rehearsal space.
For instance, the stage was much smaller than the one they were used to, and a heater made it so the seven students had to project even more than normal during their performance.
“But we figured it out quickly, and we just made it work,” said fifth grader Mia Iorio.
Indeed they did. The fifth grade team won the March 26 event’s Life is a Circus! Divi IA competition, which tasked them with developing a creative performance about a young person enjoying a regular life only to wake up one day in a circus world. Meanwhile, Johnstown’s 11th grade team, which has been competing together since they were in the fifth grade, won the Escape vroOM Div III competition, which tasked them with building vehicles that could solve certain problems. These victories qualified the Greater Johnstown School District teams for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals to be held at Iowa State University in Ames, May 25-28.
The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District added to Fulton County’s strong showing at the statewide competition, which featured roughly 200 teams of third graders to high school seniors from around the state. The Broadalbin-Perth high school team earned a second-place finish in the Odyssey ReOMvention Div III competition that tasked them with coming up a solution to a threat of giant flowers that block out the sun, securing the team a spot at the world competition as well.
Other area schools that qualified for the world competition based on their performances in Syracuse include teams from Joseph Henry Elementary School in Galway, Richard H. O’Rourke Middle School in Burnt Hills and Malta Avenue Elementary School in Ballston Spa.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving competition that challenges teams to complete different tasks ranging from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. Some teams write songs, others engineer vehicles and others build balsa wood structures designed to hold a lot of weight.
Students spend months working on performances or engineering the projects that get showcased at the competitions. They also participate in a “spontaneous portion,” during which teams have a set amount of time to solve a problem they have never seen before using a limited amount of resources.
Even after the state competition, participants have to be somewhat vague in describing their projects because the long-term projects they showcased during the state competition will be the same project they use during the world competition in May. And organizers asked that students not share details of the spontaneous problem solving to prevent any teams from somehow gaining an unfair advantage.
But even if the details of the projects are better not to be explicitly discussed, the benefits that students get from competing are obvious.
“They have to problem solve. They have to be creative. They can’t sit around and wait for someone to tell them how to do something,” said Kristin Meashaw, Greater Johnstown’s Odyssey of the Mind coordinator. “They have to overcome quite a bit and adapt.”
Students also have to effectively blend their skillsets to complete projects that demand strong art skills and science skills all at once, according to Carl Aery, a Broadalbin-Perth coach who also competed in Odyssey of the Mind when he was in high school.
Aery said he was always strong artistically, but his team’s success depended just as much on the students with engineering minds.
“That’s where it really benefits a team is to have a variety of strengths among the kids,” Aery said.
The student-directed projects are held in five categories ranging from technical to performance, and they help students learn spontaneity, teamwork and creativity while working on tasks that have them plunging into history, engineering, the arts – or all three at once.
Johnstown’s fifth grade team, coached by Julie St. Amour and Rachel Harrington, features students Mia Iorio, Neo Baker, Beth Solar, Lila Malatino, Stephanie Singer, Adam Wieczenski, and Noah Sweet. The 11th grade team, coached by Joe and Nikki Naselli, features Trey Naselli, Tyler Hutchison, Molly Sweeney, Alex DeMagistris, and DJ Long.
Broadalbin-Perth’s high school team, coached by Alison and Carl Aery, features freshman Ryan Michalski and sophomores Jacob Hughes, Lauryn Donahue, Logan Aery, Blaine Herrick and Jaciano Carrero.
Now that the teams have qualified for the world competition, the fundraising begins. Meashaw said the transportation, lodging and other costs can be as high as $20,000.
The Galway Central School District has already started a GoFundMe page to help send students to the world competition for the first time since 1995, according to a news release.
“Every little bit helps,” Galway coach Julie Pasieka said in the release. “And the students appreciate the support.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.