OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Sure, they took first place at State, but the girls from Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Overland Park aren't taking a break. They're training even harder.
After all, they're now qualified for Nationals, "Globals" actually, starting May 22 at the University of Tennessee, and the competition will be serious, with more than 8,000 students representing more than 1,250 teams culled from competitions in the U.S. and 30 other countries.
There are some butterflies on the Hyman Brand team, but experienced hands, like seventh grader Molly Kavanaugh, keep them focused. She's been competing since the team first formed 2 years ago.
Though they qualified for Globals then, the team could not go to the competition.
"First-year team, we never expected to actually be invited, so we didn't have any money saved up or anything," she recalled.
This year, though, they're ready to take on the global competition.
What they're competing in is called "Destination Imagination" , known to veterans of the competition as "DI", and it's pretty hard to explain. Teams can pick from several categories of challenges, but they all involve solving problems using STEM skills – science, technology, engineering and math, but equally as important, using teamwork.
There are tight time deadlines. One area of competition is like improv acting -- the teams don't know what problem they will get until the competition itself.
The other challenge the HBHA team chose involves engineering a mobile stage set and telling a story using props and masks, but no words. The girls have been polishing their performance in that area, and practicing thinking on their feet for the improv aspect.
"It's at their initiative, and I think that's part of what makes the girls love DI so much, is because they truly have ownership of it," Vickie Sisco, HBHA Gifted Education Facilitator, explained.
Sisco acts as the team's coach. The most important skill for her is to hang back and merely direct the team toward the areas they need to find the answers in, while allowing the girls to accomplish things on their own.
Simi Schreiber is the only sixth grader on the team. Everyone else is in seventh grade, but she isn't afraid to throw out ideas during brainstorming sessions.
"Really we all we like, pitch in ideas here and there and it's a great experience," Schreiber said.
They all say their team is so in-tune, now each girl can almost tell what the others are thinking. During an idea session, it's hard to tell who's talking in what seems like a babble of voices from which the team selects ideas and comes to agreement over a course of action.
Team members Haidee Clauer, Julia Paul, Eliana Schuster and Mia Velasquez all bring different skills to the table and recognizing and encouraging those is what the competition is all about.
While the final product may look a little strange to an outsider, the teamwork aspect is definitely a real-world skill that the students will be able to put to use.
"It's an experience that you really can't get anywhere else," Kavanaugh said.
"If anybody wants to do DI you should definitely, definitely, definitely do it. It's an amazing experience," Schreiber agreed.