Hayden Destination ImagiNation, a program that challenges students to use creativity and teamwork to solve problems, may be over for this year, but the creative juices are still flowing for a group of Hayden Middle School students who competed in the Global Finals in May.
For Ashleigh Muhme, 12, that means finding resourceful ways of making her 4-H animals more comfortable, including building a swank "bachelor pad" for her rooster, Elvis, out of an old food storage shed.
It's an example of how Muhme has applied problem-solving skills from Destination ImagiNation to her everyday life because "you never know what you'll be up against," she said.
Muhme was among seven middle school students whose comical skit, "Lord of the Fridge," earned them a trip to the Global Finals competition in Knoxville, Tenn., where they competed with 800 teams from the United States, Canada and 15 other countries.
The team, which qualified for the competition after placing second in the state finals, finished 34 out of the 68 teams faced with the "Cartoons in Dimensions" challenge: Telling a short story with made-up cartoon characters while incorporating costumes, scenery, sounds, visual effects and other elements.
For six months, the middle school team planned, built and fine-tuned their interpretation of life in a refrigerator where fresh fruit battles insects and expired dairy products.
It was the first time a Hayden Middle School team made it to Destination ImagiNation's biggest competition.
In addition to Ashleigh, the team consisted of Mitchell VeDepo, Zack and Jeremy Engle, Tyra Monger, Noah Murray and Leila Rinker.
A Hayden Valley Elementary School team reached the final competition for Odyssey of the Mind -- a similar competition -- about five years ago. This year, a Hayden Valley Elementary School team made it to the state finals.
"I think the kids learned a lot because it's a different level than they've been at before. The kids saw how to get to that level," middle school team manager Julie Smith said about Global Finals.
VeDepo, 13, learned that making it to the finals is about "putting everything into the skit and props and not going halfway," he said.
So what's the secret to winning?
"Add something to the skit to just blow (judges) away. They're really looking for the biggest and craziest thing," VeDepo said.
He was among several in the team impressed and motivated by the hard work, excitement and energy generated during the competition.
"The best part was the positive energy," Muhme said. "It really got us pumped up."
Although the students had months to work on their skit, they were presented with an impromptu "instant challenge" at each competition.
At the Global Finals, the challenge involved two ladders holding up a pole. The team had to devise a way of hanging laundry -- without touching the pole or stepping inside a taped box around the ladders. The solution had to be generated from a set of materials provided to each team.
"It was a hard challenge," Smith said. "They were blown away. They didn't score very well, but that's all part of it."
To prepare for next year's competition, Smith and coordinator Michelle Hoza want to pull together the students -- who may be part of the same team during the upcoming school year -- this summer to practice instant challenges and creative problems.
Propelled by the team's accomplishments last season, Hoza looks forward to the continued popularity of Destination ImagiNation in Hayden schools.
The combination of leadership, hands-on experience, creativity and problem solving is hard to get from other activities, she said.
"They take a problem and truly make it their own," she said. "I don't think they get that from a whole lot of other activities they are involved in."
Smith pointed out that with no theater class in the district, Destination ImagiNation is a good outlet for students interested in acting.
Hoza will distribute applications for Destination ImagiNation in October. Once the interest level and number of parent volunteers is established, students will try out for a position on one of the teams.
Each team will choose the theme of their main challenge in November. The regional competition takes place in the spring, Hoza said.
Seasoned with the experience of Global Finals, Murray emphasized that even if teams don't qualify for higher competitions, the hard work and preparation are worth the opportunity to compete.
"Sometimes you don't even go to state, but it's a lot of fun," he said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares,
call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.