Odyssey of the Mind
A group of Kyrene de los Cerritos students are trying to raise $10,000 to go to the Odyssey of the Mind world finals in Michigan. The team includes students Josie Barlay, Peter Cornacchio, Keilani Fang, Mary Haddad, Maya Haddad, Brian Kim and former team member Neha Parvathala. Submitted by Laura Wallis

Not many elementary school students could build a human-powered vehicle out of three bicycles bolted together.

But that’s exactly what a team of Kyrene de los Cerritos did to win second place in their age division at a statewide creativity competition. They’ve qualified to go to the world finals competition, where they have a chance to meet and compete with kids from all over the globe, but have to raise $8,000 in just a few weeks to get there.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem solving competition that requires groups of students to solve a variety of problems and present the solution to judges, all without outside help. Coaches may ask students probing questions to spark their problem solving skills, but students must ultimately be the ones to come up with the ideas for the competition.

Teams get to choose from a problem in a variety of categories, then compete against other teams in that category. The Cerritos team that qualified for the world finals built a human-powered vehicle that had to go through a series of obstacles and be presented to judges in a skit written by the students.

But first, the team has to raise the money to go. It will cost $10,000 to send six team members, chaperones and the vehicle and other props for the presentation to the world finals in Michigan on May 26.

The team started raising money for the trip as soon as they found out they qualified, which was just four weeks ago, and have raise $2,000 so far, said Wendy Cornacchio, the group’s fundraising chair and a parent of one of the team members.

“It’s kind of like a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is something they’ve worked all year on,” Cornacchio said. “I think it’s a fabulous program. It increases problem solving skills, but most importantly it teaches working in a team.”

Thanaa Salloum, the team’s coach and mother of two of its students, also praised the program. Her family moved to Ahwatukee Foothills from California last year, and discovering the Odyssey of the Mind program helped a lot with the transition for her girls.

For instance, her daughter Maya Haddad had been very shy and looked to her older sister, Mary Haddad, to speak on her behalf quite often.

“Now, Maya is so proud of her own accomplishment. She tells everyone, so and so is my idea,” Salloum said. “She feels more confident. It was amazing.”

That transformation has happened in a few students, Salloum said.

Wendy Cornacchio’s son, Peter, 9, said he’s looking forward to representing his neighborhood at the world competition.

Odyssey of the Mind is a lot of fun and encourages creativity, Peter said.

When the students found out they would have to make a vehicle, they immediately thought of bikes, Peter said. Peter’s dad showed him and his classmates how to cut metal, but it was the students themselves who cut apart three bicycles and found a way to reassemble them so someone could pedal it with their hands and steer using a rope.

Odyssey is different from a typical classroom experience, Peter said.

“You get to work with a lot more people and you get to build stuff and think a lot more about it, and you get to compete with it,” he said.

This is the second year in Odyssey of the Mind for Josie Barlay, 10. She, too, said it was a great program.

“It was good for my brain and it was fun working with people,” Josie said. “We usually have to do stuff that we’ve never done before, like get a ping pong ball across the room without using our hands. You have to be really creative.”

This is the second time Josie has been on a team that qualified for the world finals, but she didn’t get to go last year. Cerritos had two teams qualify in 2009, but was only able to raise the money to send one.

“I felt kind of disappointed, but I just said, I’m going to go next year,” she said. “People say it’s just a great opportunity, it’s amazing, even if you don’t win. It sounds like a life-changing event.”

Wendy Cornacchio and Salloum both say they’re determined to make sure the kids get to go this year. The team has done all kinds of fundraisers, from lemonade stands to selling yard signs for Mother’s Day to asking for sponsors.

“I think we’ve done pretty good in four weeks, but we have a long way to go,” Cornaccio said.

For information on how to help the team, contact Laura Wallis, Cerritos Odyssey of the Mind coordinator, at laurawallis@cox.net or (480) 460-8465.

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