May 14, 2007

Destination Tennessee: DI travels to compete at Globals

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

Challenging themselves in unimaginable ways, students in grades two through 12 work diligently to design, build, and write their own imagination.

In Destination ImagiNation (DI), their destination truly is their imagination.

This year, two of the 17 teams involved with Delano’s DI have qualified to compete in Knoxville, Tenn. in the Global competition Wednesday, May 23.

DI begins in October and ends in late February, depending on how well each team scores at the regional and state competitions.

Each team must place first or second place to advance from regionals, and first to advance from state.

The preparation and time that the students give to this program throughout the year is nearly equivalent to the amount of time spent in any other seasonal sport or drama event.

Students not only perform on stage, but also build and design their own sets and props. Each team will work on the same script all year, but continue revising and creating as the year goes. It is a total group effort.

Originally, the program began in 1988 because Middle School Principal Richard Rominski watched a program on PBS television.

The program was called “Odyssey of the Mind,” and featured a group of kids that designed and performed their own skits.

Expressing interest in the show, he considered the idea of offering the same program as an after school program.

“At the time, I was looking for something that middle school students could do besides athletics or drama or music,” Rominski said.

After presenting the idea to his staff, he encouraged volunteers to help start the program and get students involved. A school teacher was the first to undertake the position as manager, but many more filled those shoes over the years as the program has continued to grow.

“During that time period, Odyssey of the Mind changed to Destination ImagiNation,” Rominski recalled.

DI has come a long way from the single team of seven back in 1988 to the 17 teams it has now. Currently, Nancy Stellrecht serves as the program’s coordinator. She is assisted by an advisory board and many parents who volunteer to help their child’s team succeed.

One of those parents is Jeff Harris, who manages two teams. Harris originally became involved with the program because of his eldest daughter, Alex. After seeing what the program had done for her after only one year, he decided to help spread the excitement to other families, as well.

Smiling as he remembered, Harris said, “The experience had been so positive for her that I continued managing ever since then.”

As team manager, Harris defined his position as “providing a safe working atmosphere for the kids, and helping them with materials that they need to build.

“It’s done a lot for me, and it’s enjoyable because I get to watch kids learn how to solve problems in a real-world type setting, where they are limited by their time, budget, materials, and their ideas,” Harris continued.

Pondering the thought of success, Harris said, “They are only limited by how much effort they put into it. That’s my goal is to give these kids experience in something that these kids would never have any association with in school.”

The average team will meet once a week for two hours, but Harris encourages his kids to meet as often as possible, knowing that “you get what you put into it.”

When it comes to building, students will use all types of materials such as motors, cords, fans, welding machines, saws, cardboard, paint, and the DI standard – duct tape.

In providing his garage space for the kids to work, Harris laughed before saying, “There’s an outlet on every corner.”

After seeing how Alex enjoyed DI, Harris also enrolled his youngest daughter, Micki.

About the program and how it has affected his daughters, Harris said, “They both have their strong areas, and it’s fun to watch them grow in knowing that what they are doing is what happens in the real world. I know that these things are going to benefit them in the future. My kids are gaining skills that they would never be given otherwise.”

Above all, Harris believes success has to come from the kids.

“It comes down to having them do it. I can say it to them all I want, but they have to do it to make it happen,” he said.

Being involved with DI for the past six years, Alex Harris said, “You can just go off crazy with your mind and just do it. My imagination just goes wild, I guess.”

Anna Elsen, who has been involved in the program for three years, commented, “There are some guidelines to the challenge, but other than that, you can do whatever you want.”

Haley Winterhalter, another third-year student, also said, “Sometimes you get nervous when you’re just about to perform. You think, ‘Oh I don’t want to screw up.’”

“But when the judges laugh,” Alex Harris added, “it makes you feel like you are doing your job. You just think of things that you never would have thought of before.”

Agreeing, Elsen added, “We do have shy people on our team, but the more you’re with your team, it just makes you more comfortable.”

The students highly recommend the program to their peers.

“I’d recommend it to anyone, because it’s so fun, and even if you don’t go on the first year, you have so many memories,” Alex Harris said. “I know so much, and it will help me when I’m older. It boosted my confidence and it helped me use my resources around me.”

Continuing, Elsen said, “Anybody can be in DI. You can act; you can build. It’s great if you’re really good with ideas, improvisation, acting, building, and even writing. DI is like my life. That’s all I do.”

Kirsten Hoogenakker, who has also been a part of the program for six years, said, “I think it’s a great program for any kid, and it will help them with school. It’s good for every single subject in school. It’s made it easier for me to work with people because a huge part of DI is teamwork. That’s an important life skill.”

Smiling to herself, Winterhalter concluded, “It changed my life. I used to be shy, and now I’m totally confident.”

All the students and school staff are truly grateful for the hard work and dedication from Stellrecht and Harris, and all of the DI parents.

Hoogenakker proudly stated, “Mrs. Stellrecht is just a wonderful person, and she’s always there to help.”

Rominski also added, “Nancy and the Harris family have just done an excellent job with the program. We’re in good shape for years to come.”

As far as the program stands for the school, Rominski said, “It’s brought a lot of positive recognition to the school, and it’s given students a chance to excel in something they normally wouldn’t excel in. Above all, it gives them an opportunity to be successful.”

Stellrecht added, “Destination ImagiNation is a process. In that process, kids learn valuable life skills in the areas of teamwork, creativity, and problem solving.”

Over the last three years, Harris feels blessed to have had the support from sponsors and the school, but also, from the devoted parents.

If any parents are interested in sponsoring those in the program, or enrolling their children for next year, contact Jeff Harris at (612) 221-1282 or Nancy Stellrecht at (763) 972-3254.

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