When Youngstown Secondary formed its first team for the Destination ImagiNation competition this year, no one could predict how far it would go. These days, the seven students on the team and the coaches are still amazed at the awards they won as well as the rewards they gained by participating.
Destination ImagiNation, formerly known as Odyssey of the Mind, is an educational program in which student teams solve challenges and present their solutions at tournaments. The worldwide program has 100,000 participants and is the largest creative problem solving-based program of its kind.
English teacher Sherrin Bielik has been involved with the program for 20 years in every capacity from a parent coach to a talent judge at the tournaments. When she saw this year’s team challenge was a community service project, she said, “We have to do that!”
The project they created was called “The Helping Hand.” The goals: “As high school students, we have noticed that most fights, arguments and office referrals happen in the younger grades. We came to notice that this is because of lack of appropriate communication and social skills. We noticed that it only gets worse with each year. The main problems are social acceptance and bullying, which are closely related. What we plan to do is teach kids these skills in a manner that is fun and easy to learn. We will accomplish this through reading, skits, mentoring and hands-on activities.”
The team became mentors for fifth graders at Youngstown Summit Academy. They ate lunch together, spent time talking with them and being role models. Mrs. Bielik said the program was valuable for both schools.
“I really felt that the kids at this school needed to do some kind of community service and I thought this might be a good way to organize it and make sure it got done,” Mrs. Bielik said. “I didn’t really expect them to do what they did in the time they had. I knew their project was good but they really rose to the occasion. I think they got as much out of it as the fifth graders got from them doing it.”
Instructional Assistant and assistant coach Rob Rivello said he was struck by the maturation of the team members over the course of the program.
“They went from being very apprehensive about what was going to happen to a level of confidence they had at the end,” Mr. Rivello said. “The fifth graders really looked up to them and enjoyed the time they spent with them. We surveyed the fifth-grade teachers and they said they saw their students trying to use some of the skills that they had learned from their mentors in the classroom.”
At the tournament, the Destination ImagiNation teams present their projects in the form of a skit. The Helping Hand team won first place for its skit and two special awards in an event called Instant Challenge, in which the team is given a challenge to solve on the spot. The two Instant Challenge special awards were the DaVinci Award for exceptional creativity and teamwork and the Renaissance Award for excellence in engineering and design. It also allowed the team to progress to the state competition.
Each student/team member explained how the experience affected him or her.
Jonta Lafontaine: “I chose to be in this group because I like acting, and I like helping people. So being in this group was doing both things I like to do, plus the English credit I need to graduate.”
Julius Joy: “The reason why I’m here is because I like to act. My generation is messed up and I want to try to repair the new generation coming up. Kids need guidance, they need to be on a safe path instead of a dangerous one. Being on a dangerous path can lead to a life of horror, painful memories and just pain, period. What I learned from being in this group is that you need a team and friends to get where you want to be.”
Marcus Magby: “I’m excited for this group to go to state because we came so far from being seven people in a classroom to 10 people on a well-oiled machine of a team. I’m really proud of everybody on this team.”
Roosevelt Simmons: “The reason I’m in this program is because it has all the things that will help me be better in life, like become a better person. We help mentor little kids and guide them in the right path. If I do that, I feel like I will have inspired them.”
Jaivon Spearman: “I’m excited about this great thing that put us all together and we’re working together. I feel like we can complete anything as long as we’re a team. We work together, we talk. Let’s do this.
We made it to state, we had confidence going in and we came in first place.”
Charmonique North: “The reason why I’m here is because I love to act. I want to show people my talent.
I’m excited because we made first place. They said we wouldn’t and now look at us: we made first place. We showed them. I was excited, I was happy, I was jumping up and down. I knew if we didn’t win first place we were going to win second place. And it didn’t matter because I knew we were still champions.”
Jalen Mason: “What made me do this was at the beginning, I didn’t have much confidence in myself. But as I saw the team do it, I thought if they can do it, I can do it and it made me try harder. As we progressed, I just got more confident. It just kept building up. Ever since we won first place I thought, maybe I can do this. I’m not scared to try and take risks.”
At the state competition, The Helping Hand came in fourth place overall and were only five points away from qualifying for the global finals. The team got second place for the outreach project and skit, third place in instant challenge and third place in the team choice elements. In addition, tournament officials complimented the team members on how polite they were.
“It is a wonderful program,” Mrs. Bielik said. “The confidence our students get – they’re succeeding on a whole different level.”