Helms Elementary fourth grader Chase Vontoure said she always gets nervous when her team competes at the Odyssey of the Mind competition.
“My team has been together for two years so we know each other pretty well,” Vontoure said. “Our goal is to do our best and just have fun.”
The fun is going to continue a little longer for Vontoure’s team, which is one of six Odyssey of the Mind teams from Helms that competed in the Houston regionals in March. One team of fourth and fifth graders — Vontoure, Alexandra Beltran, Gabriela Beltran, Max Cedillo, Nico Guerrero, Axyl Del Hierro and Madeline Lopez led by parent coach Rhesa Cedillo — placed second in the statewide event in April to qualify for the World Competition of Odyssey of the Mind at Michigan State University in late May.
It’s the first time a Helms team has qualified. The elementary feeds into Hogg Middle School, which also is sending a team to the World Competition after earning a spot as an alternate.
Hogg’s team is comprised of Cecelia Barone, Meredith Burks, Francesca Bowne, Lilly Clechenko, Abrianna Lytle and Jasmine Way, led by parent coach John Burks.
Odyssey of the Mind is the largest creative problem-solving competition in the world. Teams of students select a problem, create a solution and then present their solution in a competition against other teams in the same problem and division. The problem the winning Helms team chose to work on was called Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop.
The students have to independently write an original script and create their own props, scenery and costumes while working together as a team. They also have to solve spontaneous problems in less than five minutes without prior knowledge, which requires them to think on their feet.
“The hardest part of the competition is trying to think outside of the box, to think of creative answers,” said Helms fourth grader Alexandra Beltran, who is on the team with her twin, Gabriela. “You have to think quickly and creatively to move up. Spontaneous is half of the competition.”
Helms began participating in Odyssey of the Mind in 2015. This year’s teams have been working since the fall on their problems. At the March regionals, Helms placed fifth out of 18 teams to be one of the six teams in its division to advance to the state level. Then in April, the team placed second out of 12 teams to advance to Worlds.
Now the team is eligible to compete against more than 50 teams from more than 20 countries at the World Finals.
“It means a lot to go to Worlds because not a lot of people get to go,” said Madeline Lopez, the only fifth grader on the team.
“It’s the coolest thing that has ever happened to me,” Vontoure added. “I am very shy and our team doesn’t look like the other teams, so I felt like people thought we were the underdogs. I feel like everyone is so proud of us. Our hard work paid off. Now we just need to do it again at Worlds.”
Hogg Middle School’s journey to the world competition was a little different. Their team’s chosen problem, Structure Toss, involved launching a balsa wood structure across a room and then putting weights on it, while also giving an original carnival-themed performance. The team placed third at state but got the word a few weeks ago that it was able to compete at Worlds after one of the top two teams in its category was unable to compete.
Helms, in the Heights, offers a Spanish Immersion Magnet program that integrates native English-speaking students and native Spanish-speaking students in the same classroom. Students become bilingual and biliterate by fifth grade. Hogg’s Odyssey team is made up of students who take part in the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which embraces multiculturalism and diversity.
Melissa Guerrero, Nico’s mother, said being bilingual was an asset to Helms’ Odyssey team.
“Being bilingual allows you to use different parts of your brain, and problem solving is approached in unconventional ways because your brain is tapping into multiple sources of information,” she said. “When you learn an additional language, you are exercising your brain to think quicker and more efficiently. And bilingual and bicultural children have a more diverse view of the world.”
Both Helms and Hogg are looking for community support to make the trip to Michigan State. The team needs to pay for campus housing, meals, airfare and transportation.
Hogg’s page is available HERE.