The Phoenix Reporter and Item (

Local students advance to states in Odyssey of the Mind tournament

By Christine Mawhinney Lark, For 21st Century Media

Monday, March 31, 2014

Four local schools participated in the Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind regional competition March 15, and some are now going on to the state competition.

Three teams representing St. Basil the Great Catholic School in Kimberton, a team from East Pikeland Elementary and two teams from Schuylkill Elementary advanced to the State Finals Tournament of Odyssey of the Mind, which will be held on April 12 at Berwick Area High School.

In order to advance to the state competition, these teams had to place first or second in their respective problem.

Other area teams placed highly, as well. The Barkley Elementary School team placed fourth in the Driver’s Test, and there was a 10th place and a 12th place finish in the Not-So-Haunted House for teams from Schuylkill Elementary School.

The teams, consisting of students up to fifth grade for Division I and students in sixth through eighth grades for Division II, competed against six to nine public and private schools within their divisions in the East Central region at Millersville University.

“Odyssey of the Mind has been a fantastic journey for many Phoenixville Area School District elementary students this year,” said Keya Champagne-Lee, Barkley Elementary School principal.

The students who participated in the program had a positive experience.

“Odyssey of the Mind is a unique experience for students because it encourages you to think outside of the box while working with a team of other people,” Champagne-Lee’s son Julien, a fifth grader at East Pikeland Elementary, said. “I love Odyssey of the Mind because it is different from other clubs.”

Sixth grade student Paul Ringenbach, from St. Basil the Great, enjoyed the experience also.

“Odyssey is a huge commitment, and sometimes I even felt like giving up. But on the day of the competition all those feelings go away and you love it and can’t wait until next year,” Ringenbach said.

According to Principal Champagne-Lee, Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving opportunity that was available to fourth and fifth grade students in all three Phoenixville elementary buildings this year.

Odyssey of the Mind fosters the use of many skills, including risk taking, peer collaboration, problem solving, creativity, spontaneity and critical thinking. During this club experience, students have an opportunity to examine real world problems, and develop possible solutions. The problems range from building mechanical devices to dramatic theatrical scenarios. Students are encouraged to take imaginative paths to solve a variety of complex problems.

“Each elementary school had at least one team that consisted of six to seven students and a coach,” Champagne-Lee said. “Barkley and East Pikeland Elementary both had one team, and Schuylkill Elementary had four teams this year.”

St. Basil the Great competed for the first time in 2011. This year, the school had three teams participate.

“Unlike other schools where students must tryout or be selected in order to qualify, we select our teams based on a first come, first serve basis,” Paula Ringenbach, St. Basil’s Odyssey coach, said. “We try not to turn away any interested student. If we have students who don’t fit on a team, we try to find a parent to coach and simply add another team. Participation requires a significant commitment.”

The St. Basil teams meet two times a week, usually Fridays after school and Saturday afternoons. As the competition approaches, the meetings become more frequent and longer.

“This year, St. Basil’s three teams are going to the state competition in Berwick, PA,” Ringenbach said. “We have a team of eighth graders that took on the very challenging ‘vehicle’ problem.”

The actual competition is comprised of two parts. First, the students present an eight-minute skit of their long-term problem. Students are judged on their style, creativity, originality, and their ability to create “special effects” during their performance. The students are also asked to respond to a spontaneous problem (verbal, verbal-hands-on or hands-on).

The other two St. Basil teams consist of fifth, sixth and seventh grade students. These teams solved problems with skits that included historically accurate elements and mechanically operated special effects.

“The SBG teams have worked together since mid-October to create their eight-minute skit solutions and to practice for the nerve-wracking spontaneous problems,” Ringenbach said. “We wish all 21 students the best of luck at states.”