Andover teams shined on Sunday as the Massachusetts Region 5 Destination Imagination Tournament returned to town after a five-year hiatus. Andover High School hosted the tournament that brought 92 teams of young people from 15 Essex County communities to town to compete.
The event saw the highest participation ever of Andover teams, with 27 groups boasting about 140 students from every public, and most private, schools taking part. A record eight of those local teams won first place and the right to advance to the states this Saturday at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Destination Imagination is a global organization sponsoring creative-problem solving competitions for youths in kindergarten through grade 12. The competitions help students learn creative problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration and communication skills.
Each fall, the global DI program releases new challenges in each of its seven categories — technical, fine arts, scientific, structure, improvisation, service learning and a special, noncompetitive program called “Rising Stars” for children in kindergarten through grade 2.
Sunday’s tournament was the culmination of weeks of work by the students on their chosen challenges. Hundreds of spectators were on hand as the young competitors presented their diverse ideas, complete with eye-catching props and artwork, innovative technical devices, handmade costumes and more.
Andover produced winners in five of the challenges for children in grades three through 12, with 13 teams placing in the top three of their age groups. While seven teams comprised of Andover kindergarten through second-grade students showcased their solutions, that age group does not compete or move on to the states.
In the technical challenge, “Dig In,” where children had to design a technical device to move objects from one place to another, Andover had three winners. Teams from Bancroft Elementary and Doherty Middle schools both won their division, while a West Elementary School teams placed second.
For the scientific challenge, “Going to Extremes,” where students had to research extreme environments and create a skit about adaptations that humans might make to survive there, Andover had winners in all three age groups. Teams from West Elementary, Doherty Middle and Andover High placed first, while a Wood Hill team came in second. The Doherty team received a coveted Renaissance Award for design and engineering of their extreme environment.
The fine arts challenge, “Laugh Art Loud,” required students to research a piece of art and use inspiration from it to create a live comic book story. At the Middle Level, a combined West-Wood Hill team placed first, with a Doherty team close behind in second. The West-Wood Hill team also earned a Renaissance Award for the construction of its technical device.
For the improvisational challenge, “Pandemonium,” where students researched occupations from several time periods as well as various methods of using stage make-up, elementary teams from Andover’s High Plain and West Elementary schools rocked the competition by sweeping all three places.
A West Middle team also placed first in the structure challenge, “The Tension Builds,” where the group had to build a structure out of wood, glue and fishing line that held a great deal of weight. The team’s structure weighed less than 74 grams and held 135 pounds.
Stephanie Maze-Hsu, the town’s Destination Imagination coordinator and an executive board member of the Massachusetts Destination Imagination, said while a sense of pride and accomplishment goes with winning, the lessons of DI go far beyond the placement at a tournament.
She said in a release that more than a dozen high and middle school students from Andover have been participating in Destination Imagination for more than five years, and they all find ways of giving back to the DI community by coaching younger teams, helping to set up for the tournament and doing many other service activities. Several eighth-graders and the entire high school team were team managers for the younger teams this year, following a strong tradition of this type of mentorship in Andover, she added.
“The pull this activity has on these busy teenagers is the life lessons that they learn,” she said in the release.
Maze-Hsu pointed to the comments of Andover High junior Joseph Vetere, who told Principal Christopher Lord that participating in Destination Imagination has helped him get through school.
‘Through DI, I have learned so many valuable life lessons and a set of skills that 90 percent of 11th-graders don’t have,” he said to Lord. “The best example is that I know that not all problems are solved right away. Some take a lot of time and effort to discover the root of the problem. However, after eight years of DI, I can say with great confidence that I’ve learned that if I’m willing to work through a problem I’m facing, there is nothing that can’t be solved.”
John Vetere, president of the Andover DI organizing group, “Challenge Me, Inc.,” agreed that Destination Imagination “is changing kids’ lives, one challenge at a time.”
“More than ever our local, national and world community needs people who can look at difficult challenges and work constructively to identify creative solutions and implement those solutions despite setbacks and changing conditions,” he said in the release. “DI is an integral part of creating the very best next generation of leaders.”