DURHAM — After months of hard work and two qualifying tournaments, a team of fourth- and fifth-graders from Durham Community School is headed to Lansing, Michigan, in late May to compete against teams from all over the United States and the world.

DCS Division I OM Team takes second place at state competition.
From left are Emma Jenusaitis, Isaiah Helfrich, Lexi Ritcheson, Coach Kirsten Helfrich, Jordyn Powell, Finn Conway, Luanna Sena and Coach Jay Ritcheson.


Odyssey of the Mind is a world-wide creative problem-solving program that challenges students of different age groups to work together to come up with unique and entertaining solutions to a predetermined problem. Every year the program poses a series of problems, with a list of required elements. Each team, with a maximum of seven students, chooses which problem to work on and how to weave the required elements into their solution in an eight-minute presentation.

Although the teams have adult coaches, the most important requirement is that the kids must do it all themselves — no adult assistance or input allowed. One of the highlights of the tournament is watching how each of the teams perceives the problem and puts their own unique spin on it.

This year the Durham team chose a problem focused on the works of Leonardo daVinci, looking into his inventions and great works of art. They had to recreate three of daVinci’s works in nontraditional ways, one of which was Moaning Lisa, a whiny denizen of daVinci’s studio.

While the presentations always generate a lot of laughter, there is serious learning going on. The problems mix science, technology, engineering, history, theater and art to allow each student to tap into their individual strengths and push each other beyond their comfort zones. The collaborative process, and the tight bonds fostered by months of work, reinforce the importance of listening and respecting differing ideas and opinions, and allow risk-taking and academic exploration.

For these students, now in their second year as a team, the process has been transformative. Under the patient and inspiring guidance of their coaches, Kirsten Helfrich and Jay Ritcheson, their hard work has paid off and they are excited to meet students from around the world.

Durham Community School has teams at the primary level, kindergarten to second grade, Division 1, third to fifth grade, and Division 2, sixth to eighth grade. This was a huge year for all of the Durham teams, with both the Division 1 and 2 teams advancing to the state tournament for the first time.

The Division 1 team also joins a fellow RSU 5 team from Freeport High School in advancing to the world tournament. The Freeport High School team went to Worlds last year and has opted not to make the trip this year. The Durham kids are thrilled to have an opportunity to experience Worlds for the first time.

In an effort to fund their trip, they will be fundraising over the next few weeks. For those interested in supporting their efforts, they will have several bake sales in the area and will sell tickets for a 50/50 raffle as well as raffling additional gift baskets.

Visit the Durham Community School Odyssey of the Mind Facebook page for updates on these and other fundraising events. They have also set up a Go Fund Me page at http://www.gofundme.com/help-send-the-durham-odyssey-team-to-worlds.

For more information about Maine Odyssey of the Mind, go to www.meodyssey.org/about.

For more information about the Durham program, contact Jen Hayes at [email protected] or 339-234-8815, or Devon Freeman at [email protected] or 207-504-0685. They are OM coordinators for the Durham Community School.

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