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Local teams tap creativity for Destination Imagination finals

Students foster teamwork as they gear up for contest


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The fifth-grade Bridlemile Elementary team is one of 14 Oregon teams heading to Destination Imaginations Global Finals next week. The program has thrived on the spirit of creativity.  Like any great team, the Fiverbolts had their bumps in the beginning.

The group of 8-year-olds at Southwest Portland’s Bridlemile Elementary formed two years ago to start their own school chapter of Destination Imagination, the nonprofit that helps kids around the world discover their creativity.

The youth work as a team to solve a set of challenges, and those who earn the best scores compete at the regional, state and global level each year.

“Third-graders are really opinionated,” says Twink Hinds, the volunteer coach and mom to one of the girls on the Harry Potter-inspired Bridlemile team.

They persevered, and it paid off.

The Bridlemile team, now in fifth grade, is one of 14 Oregon teams headed to Knoxville, Tenn., for Destination Imagination’s Global Finals, widely considered the Olympics of creativity.

Armed with the props, backdrops, soundtracks and costumes they’ve created for their challenges, they’ll compete against 1,250 top teams from 45 states, seven Canadian provinces and 13 countries.

About 15,000 people are expected to attend the three-day conference, held May 22 through May 25 at the University of Tennessee.

Despite the Bridlemile girls’ strong personalities, “The creativity and sense of accomplishment were more important than the need to hang onto your own ideas in the end,” Hinds says.

It helped that each of the girls had a special skill set to bring to the team: Tavie Kittredge is amazing at tinkering and her twin sister, Mia, is a gifted writer; Emma Jeffcock has mad skills with duct tape; Janelle MacPherson is a talented graphic artist; and Neve Harrison (Hinds’ daughter) is impressive on stage.

All are talents that are required for Destination Imagination’s wacky and often mind-boggling challenges.

“That’s the beauty of the program — teamwork,” Hinds says. “The problem seems easy, until you have five different solutions.”

From the ground up

Oregon’s Destination Imagination teams have thrived in Portland-area schools for decades, supported by more than 80 volunteers who do everything from judge competitions to coach the school teams.

This year all but two of the Oregon teams heading to the Global Finals come from the metro region. At least three others from Portland (two at Laurelhurst Elementary and one at West Sylvan Middle School) could have attended but chose not to this year.

Of the 14 Oregon teams heading to the finals, three are teams of high school seniors who have the potential to bring home the trophy, according to Donna Dreis, the Portland region’s organizer.

Girls in Motion from Lakeridge High School placed first at the Global Finals a few years ago. The Graduates team from Wilson High School didn’t think they were prepared enough last year, but still went to Globals and won special recognition. Their team, which has been together for seven years, includes brothers Edward and Jonathan Crouser, Nathan Palmrose, Amy Whetter and Caitie Baglien.

Brenda Crouser, their coach, started her boys in third grade. She says that while each team needs a committed adult to serve as coach, they don’t get to interfere in the kids’ work: it’s mainly providing the practice space and coordinating logistics.

The third all-senior team this year is the Fighting Mongooses from Sunset High School, a brand-new team that is just as poised and talented as the others, Dreis says.

She considers them all great ambassadors for the program, which she’s trying to promote at the high-school level since students at that age sometimes get pulled over to drama, mock trial, robotics and other activities.

Dreis says Destination Imagination teaches kids of all ages to use their problem-solving skills not just for school work, but in the real world.

“For me, kids are being taught to test these days,” she says. “They’re not being given an opportunity to be creative. This program gives them a safe place to be as creative as they want to be. There is no right answer. It’s their right answer.”

For example, the Bridlemile team’s challenge at the Global Finals is to present a team-created story about a character that uses a disguise. The girls’ story is about Native American stereotypes; they created masks that work like Venetian blinds and a headdress made from recycled art scraps, since there’s a $125 limit on all materials. The soundtrack to their story can’t use spoken words, so they hummed it, with choral riffs reflecting the changing tones.

As their coach, Hinds is constantly amazed with what they come up with. “When you’re asking a group of children to create something from the ground up and work together to do it, and then they come up with something that’s really amazing — there’s no words to describe that,” she says. “It’s like the greatest hope for the future.”

The Portland-area teams headed to the Global Finals this year include:

In Beaverton and Tigard, Village Home Education Resource Center has four teams; Sunset High School has one team

In Clackamas and Milwaukie, Cascade Heights Public Charter School

In Oregon City, Alliance Charter Academy and Gardiner Middle School; a Colton Middle School qualified.

In Lake Oswego, Lakeridge High School; a Westridge Elementary School team qualified

In Newberg, Mt. View Middle School

For information, visit www.oregon di.org.