Seven Manatee County students qualify for "Odyssey of the Mind"

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BRADENTON, FL-  If you’re looking for a creative problem solver, you might want to check out seven students from Rowlett Elementary who definitely have a knack for “out of the box” thinking. In fact, their problem-solving abilities are so outstanding, the group placed 2nd in the state of Florida’s Odyssey of the Mind competition, an international education program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten – college.

The Rowlett winning team is comprised of seven 3rd – 5th graders who hope to continue their winning streak at the Odyssey of the Mind’s World Finals competition, May 28 – 31 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.  The “Worlds” will include teams from the United States and 25 other countries.  The Rowlett “Sensational Seven” team includes the following students:  fifth graders, Daniel Rivera, Emory Hemmel, Jack Kelly, forth graders Jackson Bendixen, Gabby Sgro, Riley Williams, and third grader Roman Bendixen.

Over the next few weeks, in addition to their rigorous rehearsal schedule, the students will also be raising funds to help cover their travel and accommodation cost at the World’s competition.

Qualifying for Odyssey of the Mind’s world finals does sound impressive, but just what is it all about? Brian Flynn, the principal of Rowlett Elementary, has always been a proponent of the Odyssey of the Mind program and explains its benefits.  “This is just the type of program our children need to participate in to enhance their critical thinking skills as well as their problem solving ability. The synergistic approach to teamwork is also an important component of the Odyssey of the Mind experience that will help prepare our students for success in the future.”

Christine Sket, who volunteers her time as an Odyssey of the Mind “coach” for Rowlett, has been working with the kids on problem solving and team building since the beginning of the school year.  She explains, “Odyssey of the Mind teaches students to learn creative problem-solving methods while having fun in the process. By tapping into creativity, and through encouraging imaginative paths to problem-solving, students learn skills that will provide them with the ability to solve problems -- great and small -- for a lifetime.”

Mr. Flynn and Christine Sket, along with the entire Rowlett family, are very proud of how well their team has done in the competition so far.  “What these kids have already accomplished is huge,” exclaims Christine. They placed first in the Tampa Bay region and then second place in the state competition.  It’s quite an accomplishment.”  Kimberly Penman, the assistant principal at Rowlett, also agrees. "We are so proud of the Odyssey of the Mind team!  The students have worked together to create a solution for their problem and build it. We wish them the best at World's Competition in May!"

The Rowlett team is the only elementary school team from Manatee County to qualify for “Worlds” and the team also includes the youngest student from Rowlett and Manatee County to ever make it to “Worlds.”  

In the competition, each team must work together to solve a “long term” problem where they prepare an 8-minute performance that answers the problem, while utilizing props and special effects. The problems are judged upon originality and engineering.  The Rowlett team chose “The Not-So-Haunted House” as their long-term problem. The focus of this team’s performance is to present a creative and artistic solution to a technical/mechanical problem.

When at the competition, each team is also asked a spontaneous problem (an impromptu problem given to the team by the judges) that the team must solve within approximately eight minutes.

Parents and coaches are not allowed to make any suggestions on how to answer the team’s problem.  Coach Sket explains of her role, “I try to give them the skills they need. I can teach them how to use a saw and how not to cut their fingers off but I can’t do it for them.  I ask them a lot of questions and get them to think and build encouragement.” Christine feels that this particular team is so successful because they work well together as a group.  “All of the kids have great ideas, but they have to work collectively as a group and see value in each other’s ideas, and this team has been able to master that.”

At the World Finals, in addition to the competition portion, there are also some non problem-solving activities that students participate in.  The students will stay in dorm rooms, build friendships and participate in a lot of pin trading. They will also be teamed up with a “buddy” team from another country.  Christine says, “They will get to learn so much about another culture.  It’s a once in a lifetime experience for them.  And for these kids to be so young, it’s quite an accomplishment.”  

The cost of going to the “Worlds” competition is approximately $1500 per student, so the team is trying to raise much of the cost by participating in fundraising activities.  The students have already raised almost half of the funds needed by selling t-shirts, Mother’s Day plants, water bottles and cookies at school performances.  They have less than a month to raise the other half and will be collecting donations at the Westgate Publix at 3913 Manatee Avenue W. on May 17th from 10 – 4. The Odyssey of the Mind students and families will also be working for tips and donations at Ellenton’s Hungry Howies on May 20th from 4 – 8 p.m at 5912 18th St. E., Ellenton.   They are accepting donations for a silent auction to be held on Friday May 9th at the VIA on Terra Ceia Island.