KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No matter how much work or preparation went into their trip to Global Finals last month, there wasn’t much that could get team Mur Mur Mur Deef Em ready for all that awaited them on the University of Tennessee campus.
That’s because it threatened to be all so overwhelming to a group of students from White Mountain Elementary, state champions in their Destination Imagination division and one of only three teams to make the trip east from New Mexico.
“I was really worried they’d be completely overwhelmed,” said Jennifer Staski, gifted teacher at White Mountain Elementary and Ruidoso Middle School. “But they rocked it. They went above and beyond with the way they represented themselves, their school and how they behaved.”
Destination Imagination is a worldwide creativity and problem-solving competition, with five categories and four divisions in each category, from elementary school through college.
The White Mountain team voted to compete in the service learning category, which this year had the theme of Inside Impact.
In this category, teams had to choose some sort of community service project, keep track of how they were making a difference with their project, and create a presentation to show judges what they had done in an entertaining manner.
That included the creation of a box that transformed in some manner to illustrate what they had learned and done.
Also part of the competition is the instant challenge, in which team members were given a problem to solve in a specific amount of time. Total score on the instant challenge added into the overall team score.
Staski wasn’t alone accompanying the team to Knoxville, as four parents came along as chaperones to help shepherd the kids across campus from event to event.
Among the chaperones was Luther Light, father to fourth grade team member Jacob Light and president of the Ruidoso Municipal School Board.
“It was a great opportunity for those kids, and they availed themselves of as much stuff as was there,” Light said. “I’m glad Jacob got to go for that reason. I’d love to see more kids to go for all that.”
“When we first found they had won state and were invited to Global Finals, it was more than I could believe,” said Rebecca Rust, mother to fourth grader Titus Rust. “We were happy with State, then, surprise! There was something bigger for them.”
Events included an opening ceremony at the Thompson Boling Arena, home to the Tennessee Volunteer basketball teams and now host to the largest creativity conference in the world.
The WME kids were right in the middle of it, entering the floor with teams from Portales and Aztec, representing New Mexico as they would if they were walking in to the Olympics opening ceremonies.
“It was amazing, I couldn’t believe we were doing this,” said Madison Lutterman, 10, a fourth grader on the team. “I felt like we were part of something big.”
The Olympics provides another interesting analogy. New Mexico was a very small contingent, particularly when compared with behemoths like Texas, California or China. There were 50 teams alone in team Mur Mur Mur Deef Em’s division. The huge amount of competition meant the chances of a New Mexico team taking home a medal were slim.
But Staski said she hopes her students learned from the experience and can use it as inspiration to do better in the future.
“I hope they realize they did this incredible thing to win state and compete on this huge level, with a little bit of information and experience,” Staski said. “What they can accomplish is only based on the limits they set themselves. I want them to see what the other kids their age were doing. There’s no reason that they can’t do it too.”
Fifth grader Gwen Fuqua, 11, will be in middle school next year, along with team members Zoey Wheeles and Lily Lewis. She’s hoping to get back next year with the improved knowledge they have of what’s expected in Tennessee.
“A lot of teams integrated their infographics into their play, which saved more time,” Fuqua said. “We should definitely incorporate our infographics into our play if we can go back.”
After their competitions were over, there were plenty of fun and informative things to do as well, including a science workshop, a musical workshop which saw the students coming up with an original song and dance routine, and the Duct Tape Ball.
That’s when the creativity really came out, as students from every category and across age groups came to Thompson Boling Arena for a huge costume ball, in which the costumes were made with, yes, duct tape.
Team Mur Mur Mur Deef Em decided to go with a 50s theme, with the girls in poodle skirts and the boys wearing slick “leather” jackets, all made out of duct tape.
There wasn’t a contest or anything, it was just a way for kids to have fun with their creativity.
“One of my favorite costumes was a girl dressed up like a sushi roll,” Lutterman said.
Without a doubt, though, the kids’ favorite thing all week was the pin trading.
Almost every country, state or team at Global Finals had its own pin, and Team Mur Mur Deef Em was no exception.
Some of them were pretty elaborate, they lit up, they were animated, they came in sets, and the kids were trying to get them all.
“You got to see where other people were from. Guatemala, China, Mexico, Turkey and a bunch of other places,” said Titus Rust. “And it’s fun to collect pins and say that you got to meet someone that was from that place.”
“I learned to advocate for myself. When we were pin trading, a lot of kids wanted to make trades that I thought were unfair,” Fuqua said. “But there were so many cool pins!”