By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN-GORHAM — Two local teams competed this year in the Destination Imagination global finals, and the students that participated described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I thought it was an amazing experience,” said Julia Belanger.
“It was really fun ... a once in a lifetime experience,” added Aiden Wood.
Belanger and Wood were both part of the Berlin High School “Abstract Minds team. The Abstract Minds as well as the Gorham Ed Fenn Elementary School team, “The 7 Pixel People” traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., last month to join more 8,000 students and 1,400 teams from 45 states and 15 counties in what organizers call the “world’s largest celebration of student creativity.”
Both teams competed in the scientific challenge category “Top Secret,” which required them to create and present a story about a secret mission. As part of the challenge, the teams had to research and apply methods from cryptography and steganography to reveal secret messages and create a gadget that appears as an everyday object.
The students said they worked hard on their projects, competing first on a regional and then state level to reach the global finals. From October until the day of the competition, students were working on sets and components of the projects.
Alexis Griffin of Abstract Minds said she used to play more winter sports but she said her involvement with Destination Imagination has made it hard to participate as much in sports.
“You have to be dedicated,” she said.
Shannon Wydra, manager for the 7 Pixel People said one circuit stopper on their project stopped working and the students had to fix it right before the competition.
“They got very good at troubleshooting,” she said.
Guy Stever, co-manager for the Abstract Minds with David Griffin, said the competition was tough with the local teams competing against top teams from other states and countries.
“You had to be good to get there,” Griffin noted.
Stever said the Berlin High team came in 40th out of about 70 other high school teams on the prepared challenge. He said he felt that was a good showing, considering it was a young team.
More impressive, Stever said, was the fact the team tied for 13th on the instant challenge, which he said is more difficult because the students had eight minutes to respond.
The Ed Fenn team finished an impressive 20th in its level, helped by the fact that three of the team members competed in last year’s global finals,
But the students and managers agreed that while the competition was important, it became secondary to the experience of meeting and spending time with students from all of the country and world.
“It’s amazing,” said Abstract Mind team member Dorothy Alice Winslow. She described the experience as a culture shock to someone coming from a small rural town where there is not the diversity that she found at the global competition.
“We met a lot of people from different countries,” said Kelsey Alimandi, also on the Abstract Minds team.
The high school team members pointed out that most of the foreign students could speak English, in addition to their native language.
Several said it made them want to learn a foreign language. The 7 Pixel People team said at the elementary level many of the foreign students were not as fluent in English. Several had translators to help.
An International Block Party was held one night and the students got to sample foods from different countries. There was also a day trip to Dollywood, the theme party highlighting the Great Smokey Mountains, which both teams enjoyed.
Josh Berthiaume, of the Abstract Minds team, said the students at Destination Imagination were friendly and it was easy to sit and have a conversation with the other competitors.
“The kindest people ever,” he said.
Brie Bergeron said she accidently left her suitcase behind in the middle of a field and it was an hour before she realized she had forgotten it. When she returned to collect the suitcase, it was right where she had left it, untouched.
Designed as a way to encourage the students to mix and meet, pin trading is a popular activity at Destination Imagination. It is also an opportunity for teams to showcase their creativity and talent by designing a pin that relates to their project. Many of the local students put together displays of the pins they collected.
“We got pins from all over,” said Liam Alnwick of 7 Pixel People.
Wydra said the fourth and fifth grades that make up the Ed Fenn team got to experience dorm life, pin traded with other students from around the world, attended an expo, constructed a hovercraft, visited museums, played soccer, and geocached to earn a special pin.
Both teams are thankful for the community support that allowed them to raise the approximately $13,000 each team needed to make the trip.
Next year’s competition is already on their radar. Stever said the students took some workshops at the global finals and the overall experience showed them what they need to be successful competitors.
The Abstract Minds team consisted of Dorothy Alice Winslow, Kelsey Alimandi, Julia Belanger, Aiden Wood, Brie Bergeron, Josh Berthiaume, and Alexis Griffin.
The 7 Pixel People were Shianna Wood, Addison Eastman, Gavin Corrigan, Ayden Corrigan, Kody Lemieux, Abram Wydra and Liam Alnwick.