A group of Southern Lehigh elementary school students are preparing for one of the biggest adventures of their young lives; a learning opportunity that will take them to the heartland of America to compete against their high-achieving peers from across the U.S.
That competition–known as Odyssey of the Mind, or OM–is a creative problem-solving program for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. OM was developed at what is now Rowan University in New Jersey in the late 1970s, and has since been embraced globally.
According to the Odyssey of the Mind website, the program’s growth can be credited to the fact that it helps children overcome their natural fear of unknown situations.
“Imagine being faced with a problem that requires an original solution,” the site says. “It can be frightening. Now imagine not being afraid to solve that problem–that is what OM members learn. This skill and self-confidence will carry over to all areas of their lives.”
Through the challenges with which kids are presented–which span aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) curricula–the program emphasizes teamwork and teaches budgeting, time management, public speaking and other skills.
The seven members of the Southern Lehigh Odyssey of the Mind (SLOM) team who have advanced to the OM World Finals by winning at regional and state-level competitions are fourth-graders Kavi Chaturvedi-Patil, Ruffin Nuhfer, Matias Araujo, Isabel Henao and Farrah Ingram, and fifth-graders Avantika Crooke and Arden Rosenberg.
Together, they have worked throughout the school year on solutions to a long-term problem called “Life is a Circus,” which they were required to solve in an eight-minute performance before a panel of judges at competitions at Bryn Athyn College on Feb. 26, where they placed first in their division, and then at Lock Haven University April 2, where they placed in the Top 3 for their division and advanced to the World Finals to be held May 25-28 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
The Life is a Circus problem required the group to develop a performance about a young person “who wakes up one day to discover they somehow were transported into a circus world” and which combines elements of the real world with the fantastical. In order to do that they created a set for their performance on a limited budget, along with completing most of the other tasks–from choreography to acting–of a regular dramatic production.
Another important component of the OM competition is a “Spontaneous” challenge each team receives which tests their ability to think on their feet in front of the judges.
Scoring is based on how each team solves their known problem and their surprise one.
The SLOM team agreed that the experience has been fun as well as eye-opening for them.
“I have learned that being creative means many different things,” said Kavi Chaturvedi-Patil of his OM experience so far. “You need to think outside of the box, not just find a typical answer.”
“I have learned that I can do more on my own than I thought I could,” added Ruffin Nuhfer.
The parents of the seven teammates are also happy about how it has channeled their children’s curiosity and energy into an outlet that is helping them develop as thinkers.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to work in teams and present their solutions to an audience,” said Lidia Araujo. “It really prepares kids for what’s to come in their academic careers.”
“It is so much fun to watch the kids compete and excel,” Marc Rosenberg added. “They really enjoy every aspect and have learned so many life skills from building friendships, problem-solving, teamwork, working hard, organizing/executing a plan and keeping a budget while having a lot of fun.”
The Southern Lehigh Odyssey of the Mind team (SLOM) is currently fundraising to offset their travel expenses to the World Finals in Iowa and to help future teams participate.
In addition to a GoFundMe campaign that has been set up on their behalf, there are two other fundraisers supporters can contribute to:
- Purchase a Gift Card Calendar: Each person who buys a raffle ticket (1 ticket for $10 or 3 tickets for $20) will be eligible to win a gift card via the calendar every day in May. Gift cards range from $25 to $250 in value and are from local establishments, including The Bayou, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Da Vinci Science Center, Kome and others. Raffle tickets may be ordered via an online form and the more that are purchased, the more chances the ticket holder will have to win.
- Purchase Matey’s 12-inch frozen pizzas: The popular local pizzas are available for $7 each ($9 for gluten-free) in the following varieties: Original Gourmet, Triple Cheese, Thick Crust Triple Cheese, Smoked Provolone & Mozzarella and Gluten-Free Triple Cheese. Email SLOMWORLD@gmail.com to place an order (payment can be made via the group’s Venmo account: SLOM_SL).
Supporters can also donate directly to the SLOM team via Venmo at SLOM_SL.