BY PAUL DOWNER
Delano Public Schools
KNOXVILLE, TN After students from around the world gave a unique technical challenge their best shot, a trio of juniors from Delano High School stood alone above the rest.
Nicole Pupp, Annabel Frake, and Gretchen Wuerger, known collectively as the Sugar Packets, took first place out of 52 teams in the high school Maze Craze challenge at the Destination Imagination Global Finals May 23-26. The competition took place at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and included contestants from China, Poland, Turkey, and from coast to coast in the United States.
“It’s incredible to win first out of so many teams,” said Pupp. “It’s really amazing to know that months of hard work have paid off, and the feeling of a whole stadium cheering for your success is unreal.”
“Finishing first this year felt amazing and so rewarding,” she said. “We spent so many hours this year making everything, and to know our hard work has paid off is one of the best feelings in the world.”
In addition to the Sugar Packets’ success, The Cookie Lovers, a team of eighth-graders from Delano, took 19th in the Maze Craze technical challenge at the middle school level out of more than 60 teams.
Destination Imagination is an international program that encourages the creative process by posing STEAM-based challenges (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) that teams of students must solve. Parents, team managers, family and friends are not allowed to suggest ideas or direct teams, but can simply facilitate the acquisition of skills and knowledge.
The various challenges, which are new each year, are designed by a team of educators and industry experts who target a particular area of the curriculum and its related standards of content and performance. The areas of focus include technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, structural and service learning.
The 2018 Global Finals included 8,000 students from more than 15 countries, and more than 17,000 individuals attended the event.
In the technical Maze Craze challenge, teams had to build a device that could navigate a maze without knowing exactly what the maze would look like prior to competition. They also had to create a prop that could transform inside the maze and design a way to remove an object from the maze while also writing and presenting a story about their maze traveler’s journey.
“A team receives more points for ideas that the appraisers haven’t seen, so we found an innovative way to remove the object,” said Frake. “We also spent a lot of time on the other mechanics of the maze traveler and figuring out how to make everything work in tandem.”
Pupp said the team put in long hours to fabricate its props.
“I think that effort and the overall quality of our maze traveler was obvious to the appraisers. I think we also had unique and technical solutions to navigating the maze and completing the tasks, which helped our scores immensely,” she said.
The Sugar Packets made it to Globals competition by taking first place at both regional and state competitions earlier this year.
Improving on last year’s finish
In 2017, the Sugar Packets, with a few more members, took second place in the technical challenge and earned the Davinci Award for outstanding creativity. While that was a banner year, the three remaining members set their sights even higher for 2018.
“It is always our goal to make it into the top three at Globals, but I think, because we were so close last year and because we had such a small team this year, we especially wanted to prove ourselves and have the top finish,” said Wuerger.
“You never really know what the competition will be like each year, and with fewer team members than previous years, we just wanted to put in our best effort no matter the outcome,” said Pupp.
Life skills learned
Frake said it is impossible to say which aspects of Destination Imagination she enjoys the most because she believes all are beneficial. Wuerger said spending time with close friends in a common effort, then watching the results of that effort come to fruition, is gratifying.
“I love DI for so many reasons,” said Pupp. “It gives me a chance to express my creativity and make something completely new. I’ve definitely made lifelong friends from my team. I also think the experience from competing down in Knoxville, and just the atmosphere of meeting so many kids like you from around the world is unbelievable. It’s one of the highlights of my year.”
All three students said the variety of the Destination Imagination program has challenged them and helped them to grow personally in areas like design and construction, acting, problem solving, and teamwork.
“I would not be the same person today without this organization,” said Wuerger, adding that she hopes to see more Delano participants in the future, after five Delano teams competed in 2018, compared to 11 in 2017. “If you enjoy building, writing, acting, painting, or have any special skill, there is a way to incorporate it into DI and you should definitely build a team and join.”
Pupp said the program is built for all ages of students, and that success in competition isn’t necessary to pick up new skills and have fun with friends.
“Destination Imagination helps students prepare for life. It teaches creativity, innovation and teamwork,” said Frake. “All of these skill sets are valuable in school, at work and in everyday life.”
Team managers for the Sugar Packets were Kristina and Ben Pupp, and Brian Frake.
The Cookie Lovers
In addition to their strong Globals performance, The Cookie Lovers placed second in their division at the North Metro Regional DI Tournament, and then placed third in their division at the Minnesota Destination Imagination State Tournament.
The Cookie Lovers team consisted of Lauren Goemer, Becca Reither, Lexi Semeizer, Madeline Engel, Anna Henry and Isabelle Alipour. Team managers were Chris Semeizer and Stacie Engel.