By Stephen Landry
ASHBURNHAM — Next stop, creativity!
Students in Ashburnham and Westminster schools will be invited to fire up their problem-solving skills as Destination Imagination makes its return to the district after nearly 20 years.
“This program will teach students to work under pressure and manipulate materials in order to solve a challenge,” explained Karen Cloutier, the program’s affiliate director for Central Mass. She compared the tasks students will undertake to that facing the NASA officials who worked around the clock to save the Apollo 13 astronauts after one of their oxygen tanks exploded in space. The scientists on the ground were forced to find an improvised solution using a very limited supply of materials.
“It’s these types of challenges that we’re giving students and it’s, more importantly, those types of skills they’ll be learning,” Cloutier said.
The program, a worldwide educational nonprofit, is aimed at providing students an opportunity to acquire and practice the skills they will need to thrive in class, their future careers, and beyond by teaming up and using their ingenuity to solve a variety of Offered in 44 states and in 20 countries, the program is aimed at helping students develop an understanding of the creative process while finding innovative solutions to problems, according to Cloutier.
She added that the trial-and-error nature of the process provided by Destination Imagination gave the students an opportunity to fail a few times — without fear of the consequences — while on the path to success.
Teams of between two and six students will choose to take part in one of six challenge categories: technical, scientific, engineering, fine arts, improvisational, and service learning, in which students will identify a problem in their community and develop ways to address it. A non-competitive early learning challenge will be available to students from preschool to second grade, and is designed to encourage children to be creative, learning simple building and construction, and become comfortable working in teams.
School Librarian Jenna Morin, who will serve as the program’s district coordinator, said she had participated in Destination Imagination as a student in Colorado and Virginia. “I started (in the program) when I was young and even though I was active in dancing and playing sports, (Destination Imagination) is what gave me the skills that I have taken with me,” Morin said. She said she hoped the program would spread to other schools in the area.
The program, which will begin in the fall and continue through the 2019-2020 school year, will see students competing against nearly 600 other teams in the state in six regional tournaments next March. A state tournament will determine which teams will move on and compete in the Global Finals in May.
Jordan Cormier, who took part in the program while a student at Oakmont in the 1990s, said Destination Imagination had provided him with an opportunity to tackle and solve technical and engineering problems at time in which there were not many robotics competitions in the area.
“This program gave technical-minded individuals to have an outlet and feel good by competing in something,” Cormier said. He added that the school stopped hosting Destination Imagination shortly after he graduated in 1999, but said that didn’t stop his involvement in the program. Cormier currently serves as the International Challenge Master for the program’s technical challenge, meaning teams competing from around the world will face a diabolical technical puzzle of his own design.
“I am tremendously thankful to see Destination Imagination coming back to the school,” Cormier said. “It’s a very nostalgic thing to see my school system come back into the program that has meant so much to me.”
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