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Destination Imagination: DeSales pupils headed for Tennessee

LOCKPORT – Two teams of DeSales Catholic School students have such vivid imaginations, they have been chosen for a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., later this month.

The third- and fourth-graders will compete in the global finals of “Destination Imagination,” an academic problem-solving contest hosted by the University of Tennessee from May 25-28.

The DeSales third-grade team, called “The Zoo Crew,” will present a skit centered on an owl they built with a revolving head. It’s really a Styrofoam or plastic ball on top of a bottle with a small motor attached. Most of the team members will be portraying animals.

The fourth-grade team, “The Magnifiers,” will be presenting a whodunit pertaining to the theft of the Irish crown jewels in Dublin in 1907.

Sister Carol Ann Kleindinst, the school principal, said DeSales first became involved with the contest last year, but the children were learning, not officially competing.

“They did well, but not this well. We’re headed to the top now,” she said. “The students right now very much understand what they’re being called on to create, and that creation gives in to their best inner self. That’s why they’ve come out on top this year.”

DeSales joined Destination Imagination after being involved for several years with Odyssey of the Mind, a similar type of creative problem-solving contest.

Third-grader Isabella Watson said, “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but my mom asked me if I wanted to be in a group with all my friends, and I said sure.”

Stacey Pellicano, the fourth-grade coach, said the contest is two-fold. “They have a performance-based problem that they create a solution to, and then they also have the instant challenge portion where they are presented with a problem and they have to solve it on the spot. Sometimes those problems may involve materials where they have to build a structure; sometimes it’s some type of play, some skit that they have to act out with a problem in it. They can also have a combination, a skit and something they have to build.”

The scenarios, chosen in advance, can be selected by the teams from a list of six provided by Destination Imagination.

Actually, the teams already know what the instant challenge might be, but it’s a secret. “We can’t even talk about it with our parents,” Pellicano said. “The judges get a chance to see them working on the spot. A lot of times in education, kids get used to thinking in a linear fashion. This gets them to think, ‘There aren’t finite solutions to everything. We might be able to find a way around this.’ ”

The DeSales students, the only Catholic school competing, won the regionals at the University at Buffalo and finished second in the state tournament at SUNY Broome Community College in Binghamton, out of a field of eight third-grade teams and 13 fourth-grade teams. That was good enough to punch a ticket to Knoxville.

Third-grader Jillian Knuutila took part in last year’s team. “It’s better because I get to experience it with different people and we get to do different things,” she said.

This year’s third-grade performance-based problem, limited to eight minutes, was called “In Plain Sight.” Jillian said, “We have to choose a hipster to hide somewhere to blend in. We hid him in a tree.”

That was the owl. “Whenever we had him talk, we had his head spin around,” Jillian said. Meanwhile, she and teammate Sophia Goyette, who is the daughter of third-grade coach Nicole Goyette, play cheetahs.

“We dance to the Cheetah Sisters song,” Sophia said, “We put on our cheetah costumes and then we grab stuff from the lost-and-found and put it on.”

Meanwhile, Dominic Pellicano plays a monkey and jumps around on a chair.

Teammate Hannah Upshaw said, “I just wanted to be a lion,” she said. She and teammate Aubree Parker get to dance to Katy Perry’s “Roar” while in lion garb.

Aubree said, “Hannah’s a girl lion, while I’m a boy.”

Aubree got that part “because I’m a tomboy. I’m the only girl allowed to sit at the boys’ table.”

Daniel Rahill confirmed that. “She’s the only girl that doesn’t act all crazy to us,” he said.

Daniel is the zookeeper, who at one point pretends to be knocked unconscious and falls down. Dominic said Daniel got the job “because he’s the only one that can do the move.”

Also, Mrs. Goyette said, he knows how to operate the motor that makes the owl’s head spin.

“He doesn’t like to be a crazy animal. He’s more of a literal zookeeper man. They all picked their parts by what they like,” Mrs. Goyette said.

The fourth-grade team features Kai Schiesel, who plays the robber who may or may not be responsible for the theft of the Irish crown jewels.

“In the real-life Irish crown jewels, they were never found, but in our version, they are found,” he explained. “Our challenge is ‘Get a Clue,’ so we have three suspects. I’m one of the suspects. In the end, each person has a baking soda rock and we pour vinegar on it, which has this coin, and we say it (the jewels) was melted down into a coin.”

Then the identity of the thief is announced.

“Then our detective, Natalie, asks the person why they stole the Irish crown jewels.”

Detective Natalie Pellicano said the thief could be any of the suspects. “We get envelopes and write down names, and then we swap ’em up, so we play our chances,” she said.

The team is required to have an explanation for any of the possible suspects’ crimes. For instance, Jaimie Fraass plays a miner.

“They think I stole the Irish crown jewels because in my mine there’s a hole in the roof of it that led to the museum where the jewels were,” she said.

Another suspect is Olivia Rongo, portraying a museum visitor. “They think I stole the Irish crown jewels because I left late the night they were stolen,” she explained. “I have a ton of jewelry on my neck and wrists.” She said she ended up being the actual thief in both the state and regional contests.

Sydney Mosher plays the narrator. “My job is to fill in the blanks for what they didn’t cover, why it’s happening and what they might be thinking,” she explained.

More than 8,000 students are expected to be involved in the various divisions in the global finals in Knoxville. The 12 DeSales kids are raising money now for their trip to the event.

Kim Knuutila, director of marketing and admissions at DeSales, said $8,580 will cover the pupils’ lodging in college dormitories and admission to the tournament. Travel expenses are extra, and the money raised won’t cover the costs for any accompanying family members; those expenses are extra, too.

The Grigg-Lewis Foundation has made an emergency grant, and DeSales set up a GoFundMe page, but donations may be made directly to Destination Imagination’s website and earmarked for DeSales. The latter would be tax-deductible.

So would checks sent directly to DeSales at 6914 Chestnut Ridge Road, Lockport, NY 14094, marked for “Destination Imagination Team.”