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Destination Imagination: Choosing Your Challenge

Members of Clayton’s Clan perform a skit during their Pinball Heroes presentation. From left, Nora Obuchowski, Skyler Barnard, Teddy Fournier, Mattia Ancel, and Jack Obuchowski. Photo by John Lazenby.
The Kellogg-Hubbard Library Children’s Room is a popular hangout in the afternoon, but the four children gathered around the table are not here to search for another Harry Potter. They’re talking about Destination Imagination, an international program designed to teach kids from preschool through university to be “innovative problem solvers.” The four are members of a Destination Imagination (DI) team and were preparing for the local tournament at Norwich University on March 24. 

As team members they could choose from a variety of challenges, each involving a problem that must be solved. They planned to demonstrate their solution at the tournament. This team includes a brother and sister pair, Elisheba and Elijah Joseph, as well as two sisters, Mary Jane and Rose Bosse. They’ve named themselves “The Rambunctious Rainbows,” but if they tend toward rambunctiousness, it’s not apparent. In fact, they’re speaking with thoughtful seriousness about plans for a service learning project. Their mothers, who include the team manager, Shambhavi Prajna Fitzpatrick, watch from the sidelines. 

Ten-year-old Mary Jane says her team will focus on “supporting our elders.” What kind of support do our elders need? Nine-year-old Elisheba explains, “Sometimes older people don’t take care of themselves … They might not brush their teeth … This can cause problems,” she adds with assurance. “Also they might not exercise enough.” 

The team presented a play called “Age Brings Rainbows.” Emily, the heroine, confides in a witch who promises her a cure for old age, but first she must undertake a quest. Along the way, she meets a cake-eating “manion,” a banana-throwing baby, and a dragon. In the end Emily returns home realizing “old age needs to be embraced instead of cured.” 

At Twinfield Union School, a DI team called The Rising Sea Stars works with team manager Jessica Della-Pepa Clayton. Their challenge is to create a story about underwater sea creatures going on a vacation to a new habitat. A lot of research goes along with this project, and the three teammates, Issac Mullendore, Ariabella Clayton, and Caio Costa are intrigued with what they’ve discovered. 

“Harp seals are SO cute,” proclaims six-year-old Isaac, as he widens his eyes and puts his hands around his cheeks mimicking the seal he’ll play in the story. Eight-year-old Ariabella talks about “the little fish, … they look like jellyfish eggs but they’re little fish that swim with the jellyfish who protect them.” Caio, also eight, wants everyone to know about his favorite parts of their play, the travel agent jellyfish and the underwater taxi. “It’s a ‘tacsea’, t-a-c-s-e-a,” Caio repeats, in case a listener fails to catch the pun. 

The Rising Sea Stars rehearsing their play. From left Caio Costa, Issac Mullendore, Ariabella Clayton. Photo by Mary Mello.
Non-interference is a critical feature of DI. Team managers (like coaches) can teach the creative process and help keep the team on track but cannot assist or interfere. Only members of the team can do the work. Clayton turns to her group and asks, “Who’s going to design and make your costumes?” 

“We are!“ answer the Sea Stars without missing a beat.

“And who gets to stand up and smile and say, ‘Awesome job, team!’”

“You do!” they shout, pointing at Clayton.

As kids gain experience, they become more aware of the essential elements of teamwork. “Clayton’s Clan,” a team of seventh graders, talk easily about the value of working well together, the need to “give everyone a voice,” and the importance that all voices are heard. This group (managed by Clayton) chose the Pinball Heroes challenge. Their play features a group story of children who become trapped in a strange pinball world and are ultimately saved with the help of a fellow prisoner. 

The Northfield After School team, who also chose Pinball Heroes, designed and built a giant pinball game complete with levers as the main prop for their play. Members of the group can point out what they did individually to make the team work better. Their strategies include compromising, communicating, helping others, and “always working.” 

Northfield After School Corn-a corn Team waits to go on stage. From left: Ethan Smith, Raelynn Greenslit, Carter Tate, Calvin Brown, Riley Chamberlin. Unable to attend: Jack Christiano. Photo by Elden Montagne, team manager for the Northfield After School program. 
An article in the Sept. 23, 2023 issue of Archives Business Research singled out Destination Imagination as an organization that develops “superior performance competencies,” including effective communication, creative thinking, critical thinking, relationship building, problem solving, time management … leadership … respect and acceptance of other cultures … These skills equip students with the capabilities to succeed upon entering the workforce … (leading to) superior employee performance.” 

The ability to compromise and listen to others, making sure all voices are heard, compromise and creative problem solving. It’s not surprising that these qualities would lead to success in the business world. 

Any reader who’s been watching the 118th Congress might also wonder, “How soon can we send these kids to Washington?”