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Fairfield Kids Prepare to Take on the World

Say hello to Fairfield’s Rookies of the Year. In their first try, two teams at Stratfield Elementary School came up winners in the state Odyssey of the Mind competition last month. Moms Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly and Amy Keary will now take their teams to the World Finals at the end of May.

“What it calls for — collaborative work and problem solving — is everything that 21st century education is supposed to be about,” Jennifer said. “This is a program that we can introduce starting in kindergarten, and the kids have a ball doing it.”

Stratfield had Odyssey of the Mind teams years ago, but then the program lay dormant for years because the school had trouble finding coaches. At the start of this school year, however, five teams began training for the statewide competition. And in just one year, Stratfield can boast that two of its teams are the best in their categories, despite going up against squads with years of experience and in-class practice.

In Odyssey of the Mind, teams of up to seven students vie  in academic competitions. Each team picks one of five problems and must use their creativity and teamwork to come up with a solution.

Kennelly’s team (Fiona Kennelly, Emily Healy, Daniel McAleese, Abrianna Natoli, Alexey Linsenmeyer, Carly Pavoni and Iain McCay) chose “Le Tour Guide,” where the kids had to produce a performance using a character from classical literature as their “guide” through three settings the kids create themselves. At different stops through the tour, they had to come up with a series of creative explanations, such as why it was important to guard something worthless.

Keary’s team (Maura Keary, Liam Holroyd, Olivia Parisi, Peter Fucigna, Lily Cherniske and Daniel Fitzpatrick) picked “Good as Goldberg,” in which the kids needed to design a needlessly complicated Rube Goldberg device to do a simple task, along with a skit to explain the device. The team chose to make a gumball machine inspired by “ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The kids also had to be ready for “spontaneous problems” throughout the actual competition day in Hartford. They were able to practice on sample problems throughout the year, but on the day of the competition they had to solve a brand-new problem on the spot.

Though the two captains were able to help organize notes and show the kids how to use their devices, all of the actual work had to be done by the kids. Parents are not allowed to guide any decisions or even so much as hot-glue something onto the finished project without risking disqualification.

“For me the hardest part was keeping my mouth closed … while they were making the device,” Amy said. “You really just had to step back and let them work.”

Do your kids participate in programs like Odyssey of the Mind? Tell us what they think of it in the comments below.

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