Voorheesville Odyssey continues — to States

— Photo provided by Jean Mackey
Chemistry was the theme of the project by eighth-grade girls at the Odyssey of the Mind regional tournament last Saturday. Joined by their science teacher Joe Ianotti, the team mambers, from left to right, are Emy Hampston (Neon), Abby Parker (Oxygen), Rachel Crawford (Calcium), Joelle Lisboa (Gold), Isabel Jobin-Davis (the Element of Surprise), and Tori Szesnet (Helium).

— Photo provided by Tricia Putman
Dressed as a cedar tree, fifth-grade Voorheesville student Gabrielle Dowd performs for the Odyssey of the Mind project. Behind her are, from left to right, Krista Rivers, Leon Fitzgarrald, Rori Champion, and Maeve Connolly peeking above the tree prop on the right. The team of seven fifth-graders won at the regional competition March 1 and will go on to compete at the state level in April.

VOORHEESVILLE — Plastic spoons, corks, buttons, and coffee filters were made into trees by a group of fifth-grade students from Voorheesville Elementary School last Saturday. The seven children are participants in Odyssey of the Mind, a program designed to encourage communication, creative thinking, and problem-solving abilities in children from kindergarten to college.

This team, and Voorheesville’s eighth-grade team, won first place in their age divisions at the regional tournament March 1, qualifying them to continue on to the state competition in Binghamton on April 12. They are following in the footsteps of winning Voorheesville teams.

In the fall, Voorheesville holds an information session for any students, and parents, interested in participating in the program. The Odyssey groups used to be teacher-led, but the abundance of participating kids has caused parents to start coaching as well.

Coaches are not permitted to help the kids with their project, but create a meeting environment for them and help facilitate good team communication.

Many teams, such as the fifth-graders coached by Tricia Putman, have been meeting two to three times a week since September to prepare their projects.

Putman has been coaching for four years, and most of her team has been involved for at least the past two years.

“As you get to the older ages,” she said, “kids tend to stick with it.”

The time commitment for Odyssey is quite large; teams begin meeting in September or October to prepare for regional tournaments in March, at least for New York state teams.

Odyssey of the Mind across the country, and includes overseas countries such as Greece, Russia, and South Korea. Over 800 teams will compete in the World Finals this May in Iowa.

Individual teams choose one problem to tackle, with each problem having a common form every year but with different specific requirements. One problem is always a vehicle-building one, another asks children to do a performance piece, and another focuses on building a structure capable of holding a considerable amount of weight.

The current fifth-graders have chosen the structure-building problem several years in a row, both because they enjoy it and have learned helpful things along the way, Putman said, and because one of the boys in the group really likes to build things.

“It’s really sweet of them” to keep choosing the project he likes best, Putman said.

This year, worldwide, the building project was sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and had to incorporate the Earth into its theme. The team chose the forest as its theme, and made stacks of balsa wood boxes resemble a tree, which is capable of holding 105 pounds.

“This year, they got really involved with making props,” Putman said. The kids made several trees by pasting dyed coffee filters and candy cup wrappers to cardboard, as well as plastic spoons and corks, and buttons, bottle caps, and Sticky Notes.

Part of the project required team members to stack their boxes and explain each piece as a part of the whole, keeping with the Earth theme. The team pretended the individual boxes were seeds to make the whole tree, and the weights put on the tree were its food, such as water, nitrogen, oxygen, and fertilizer, which “they all pretended to not want to touch,” Putman said with a chuckle.

The eighth-grade team is a group of six girls who Jean Mackay has been coaching for the last two years. She has coached Odyssey teams for the past eight years.

The girls decided to tackle the performance problem; this year’s prompt was to act out a community that was afraid of something in an environment they had never seen before. The group sends a traveler to the strange new place to report back what she found.

They chose a chemistry theme, with each girl portraying an element from the periodic table, and one girl portraying the element of surprise.

In their skit, one traveler went to a chemistry lab — the location the community of elements feared — where the traveler saw how combining things to make something new wasn’t scary, and could help them reach their full potential.

The message of their skit was an echo of Mackay’s coaching style.

“I work a lot with my kids on teamwork,” she said.

At the competition, she saw Voorheesville teams watching each other’s performances when they could, cheering each other on.

While Putman believes the reward of getting to continue on to state competition is a reward for the kids, she also thinks participating is its own reward.

“They get to look back and know they all did it on their own,” she said. “The kids feel so proud whether they get to go on or not.”

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Four elementary school Voorheesville teams also competed in the tournament:

—​ Molly Coberi, Julia Kito, Colin Madieros, Sawyer Nasadoski, Erin Owens, and Kia Reynolds, coached by Melanie Nasadoski;

—​ Cooper Layman, Paige Layman, Sadie Dowd, Parker Macri, Nathan Shearer, and Thomas Smith, coached by Amy Tesch-Layman;

—​ Noah Arnaud, Merrin Brick, Aidan Dutkiewicz, Victoria Iacabucci, and Rowwen Knauf, coached by Heidi Arnaud, and

Jada Akers, Haden Anderson, Noah Clough, Karen Huang, and Renata Reynolds, coached by Julie Reynolds.

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