A team of seven students from Howard Drive Elementary in Palmetto Bay entered the annual Odyssey of the Mind competition at the end of last year, worked its way up through the various levels, and won the 2014 World Championship on May 31.
The winning team members are Matthew Lamas, Sofia Vinueza, Andres Laventman, Leah Melendez, Alex Eum, Kennedy Todd and Lorenzo Vinueza, with a standout performance combining dance, singing and mechanics. Parents Milton Todd and Lida Mari-Todd served as coaches for the group of youngsters and were understandably pleased with the victory.
“Of course we are extremely proud of their win, but there are so many small moments within the season that make us notably proud,” said Milton Todd. “When they got together one afternoon in December and in a couple of hours were already walking through a script they were writing at the same time, it was a very proud moment. A markedly advanced team from the rookies of the prior season.”
At the start of the competition in October 2013 the team of mostly fifth graders chose the problem they wanted to solve, which was “Driver’s Test,” in which they were required to build a vehicle that one or more teammates could drive, while performing certain tasks. They began work on a story and a vehicle to go with it. The students met for weekly practices, sometimes more often.
Then on Feb. 22 they met at Miami Springs High School for the regional tournament. The team won its division and advanced to the state finals, competing against 20 other regional winners at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Apr. 12. The Howard Drive Elementary team placed first again and was invited to the world finals held at Iowa State University.
That four-day event had more than 800 teams performing for three straight days. In the elementary school division the Howard Drive team was competing against 61 other world finalist teams.
“On Friday, May 30, the team performed their solution smoothly in front of a full room of spectators and competitors,” Todd said. “The next day they went to the spontaneous competition and after 20 minutes emerged very confident of their performance. They immediately rushed over to their prop storage and enthusiastically began the world finals tradition of destroying their props, as shipping them back is just too expensive.”
The award ceremonies began shortly after that and the team was joined in the audience by Miami-Dade School Board member Dr. Larry Feldman who had flown in for the ceremonies. After a nerve-wracking wait, first place finally was revealed and Howard Drive Elementary became the 2014 World Champion.
“When they were announcing ‘our first place world champion is …’ I was smiling like good for China or Japan or Singapore,” said student Leah Melendez. “I was getting comfortable in my seat thinking that we weren’t going to win and then they announced ‘Howard Drive Elementary.’ I jumped out of my seat and screamed.”
Fellow student Andres Laventman shared that feeling of satisfaction, saying, “It feels great to know that our team is the best in the world in something. Whether we won or not, we always had fun and learned a lot about ourselves, each other and team work.”
Student Alex Eum agreed.
“It is a feeling that will never go away, that I succeeded in winning at a world championship.
Student Sofia Vinueza said, “I’m so excited about winning first place at world, I can’t stop watching the video my dad took of them announcing our team. To think we beat 61 other teams from all around the world is amazing.”
Kennedy Todd, for whom the trip to Iowa was her first flight after having bolts and plates put in her leg, said, “I was ecstatic. It is really awesome to be world champions. We chose ‘Driver’s Test’ because it sounded fun and interesting, and we wanted to do something different than last year.”
The return trip home was almost as exciting. Kennedy’s dad explained why.
“As the kids traveled through the airport carrying their large trophy, which was too delicate to pack, the team was treated like celebrities, with other teams wanting to pose with our kids for pictures,” Milton Todd said. “On the plane was a team from China who similarly wanted to get our names, emails and photos.”
Todd thinks that the Odyssey of the Mind competition is a good, challenging program that exposes the kids to real world problem solving. He urges other parents to consider it.
“A couple of years ago, my wife and I wanted to get our daughter involved in something ‘different,’” said Milton Todd. “We searched around and came upon Odyssey. We decided to try to build a team around our daughter by simply inviting friends and classmates who might be interested. After many invitations, a handful of families were willing to give it a shot. And away we went.
“Since there is no limit to the number of teams that can enter from a school, we always encourage other parents who think this would be a good fit for their child to go ahead and form a team. It is a tremendous commitment, but very rewarding, regardless of the number of wins.”