Libertyville students are proving they can solve problems. They can build complex structures. And, in record-breaking ways, they win.
On Tuesday, May 21, a record number six teams representing all five schools within Libertyville Elementary District 70 and a group from Libertyville High School will demonstrate their teamwork, creativity and problem-solving skills at the Destination Imagination Global Finals.
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"We know it's going to be a tough competition featuring the best from all over the world," said Curtis Sparks, a junior at Libertyville High. "It's a chance to get up there and show everyone what we've managed to do."
Teams of students from Adler Park, Butterfield, Copeland Manor, Rockland and Highland elementary schools and the high school placed in one of the top four positions at the state level, which is propelling them to compete in Global Finals in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Libertyville teams will be among more than 8,000 students representing more than 1,250 teams advancing to the international level.
Destination Imagination is an extracurricular activity open to all students. Each fall, DI publishes seven open-ended challenges that require students to apply science, technology, engineering and math in addition to improvisation, theater arts, writing, project management, communication, innovation, teamwork and community service.
This year, District 70 students formed a record number 21 teams to compete in the regional competition last March. Nine of those teams advanced to the state competition on April 21.
Each challenge requires students to solve a complex engineering problem within a limited time span and budget. Students prepare their solutions in advance and are judged for their solution, which must show technical ability and theatrical flair. Each team also must complete a separate instant challenge, which requires on-the-spot problem solving.
"I really like the instant challenges because it really helps you work together," fifth-grader Celia McDermott-Hinman said. "They give you this challenge and you have to adapt. You have to work as a team."
Three teams, one combined between Adler Park and Butterfield, a second from Highland and a third from Libertyville High School, will compete in the "Dig In" technical challenge. Elementary students are Chase Houser, Celia McDermott-Hinman, Lily Ervine, Dillon McDonald, Noah Scally, Eric Sparks, and Ryan Tanzer.
The middle school students are Elias Anderson, Alex Dikelsky, Jacob Dikelsky, Jordan Erdal, Matthew Olson, and Adam Sparks. Representing the high school are Mitry Anderson, Jacob Cowsky, Annika McDermott-Hinman and Curtis Sparks.
In the "Dig In" challenge, eighth-grader Alex Dikelsky explained the task was to create equipment that can detect an object in 10 of 16 containers. The equipment must detect containers that do not contain an object, puncture containers that hold an object, remove them and carry all the objects across the finish line.
While the final goal is the same, each team's model looks different. That, students say, is the result after months of discussing ideas and multiple trials and some errors.
"We start with general ideas. They may be crazy. Sometimes they actually work," said eighth-grader Jacob Dikelsky.
Students said even though they've made it to the global finals, the team continues to work to refine each element and improve its performance.
"Between the challenges, we upgrade," eighth-grader Matthew Olson said. "The work is never done."
Greg Sparks, who serves as head coach to all three teams, is among the parents who volunteer time to help manage the organized chaos as the teams test their solutions.
"Everything that comes together has to come from the kids," he said. "The most rewarding part of it is to see these kids come up with complex solutions and to be able to do it. It allows the kids to see 'hey, we really can do this.'"
Four other District 70 teams also have advanced through the regional and state competitions and will move on to the Global Finals.
• Placing first in the state in the Laugh Art Loud challenge was Butterfield School's "Five for One" team. Led by Saba Lausch, the team presented a theatrical comic strip created by artists while also showing off a Caption Contraption they created for one of the comic strip panels. The team members include Abby Gordon, Kate Hopkins, Nadia Lausch, Ryan McGrory and Maddy Tepper.
• In the Tension Builds challenge, Copeland Manor team, "Team T.E.A.M.," placed third in the state. It is made up of Jonathan Ciullo, Liam Gaiden, Grant Giardina, Nathanael Herman, George Huber, Grant Keriazakos and Sean Paden. The group had to build a structure that's tested against two forces, design and assemble a prop during the presentation and create a story where tension is a threat to stability. This team is led by Traci Keriazakos, Stacie Herman and Jean Giardina.
• Rockland School's "Revenge of the Monkicorns" took fourth place and earned a wild card to compete at globals with its Pandemonium challenge. Led by Barb Cannon, the team shows how characters work to deal with pandemonium during a certain time period, use stage makeup to develop a skit character and present a five-minute improvisational skit. Team members are Kara Cannon, Madeline Michelotti, Kylie Miller, Jamie Nicholson, Briana Rojas, Sarah Rosten, and Kenzie Shutts.
• Copeland's "Beamers" took first in the state in the Pitch and Play challenge. Team members Grace Dillon, Megan Post, Greta Schultz and Katherine Thomey participated in the service learning challenge, designing a project that addresses a community need.
Participation in Destination Imagination continues to grow. While schools offer many extracurricular activities, students within Destination Imagination say this is unique. Sixth-grader Jordan Erdal said each year they face a new challenge and build on skills they've learned to devise a solution.
Libertyville High freshman Annika McDermott-Hinman added, "It's a huge commitment, so you feel a huge sense of pride when you win. I've learned so much. When I started, I didn't even know how to use a drill. Now I'm building robots. It's a huge learning experience and also great because I get to meet all these great people."
As the teams advance to the Global Finals, members from Highland hope to improve from their ninth-place finish last year. But all the teams say they look forward to seeing their work in action and meeting kids around the world who faced the same challenges.
"I love having that feeling like I did this with my team and we succeeded. We actually accomplished what we were going for, and I love to see that," third-grader Noah Scally said. "I really look forward to doing the challenge and having a good time."