DI Furthers Student Success

By Becky Herberger | Published September 26, 2014 | The Bolton Independent

After a great showing at the Destination Imagination Regional Tournament, an unprecedented three teams from Florence Sawyer School went to complete at the state level on Saturday, March 29, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  With hundreds of creative minds and outside-of-the-box thinkers in one place, the excitement was palpable. 
More than 150 teams from Massachusetts participated in a technical, scientific, theatrical, improvisational or structural central challenge and a top-secret instant challenge.  Two improvisational teams and one structure team from FSS competed. 
Teams prepare for a central challenge all year long, and are judged on creativity, originality, teamwork and thinking on their feet. In September, students preview challenges and choose the one they want to solve.  Central challenge categories can vary from year to year, though some come up regularly.  Every year a technical category has a robotics element.  There is always a scientific category that focuses on subjects like air currents and extreme weather.  A fine-arts challenge can range from song-and-dance and acting to analyzing interactions between different cultures.  A structural challenge always involves weights.  Improvisational teams research topics and, at the tournament, are given a situation with five minutes to prepare and five minutes to perform.
Instant challenges run differently.  Each team receives the same instant challenge and performs it behind closed doors and without coaches.  Teams are forbidden to discuss instant challenge parameters with anyone, not even parents or coaches, until after the global tournament.  Instant challenges can be task-based, performance-based or both, and teams are assessed on creativity and teamwork.  In terms of creativity, appraisers look for original ideas and a creative use of materials.  For teamwork, they look for leadership, good communication, inclusiveness, positive interactions and effective collaboration. 
DI FSS Coordinator Nicole Caligiuri described DI as a “problem-solving and teamwork-based program that teaches kids everything they will need to know to be a successful and contributing member of society in the adult world.” She explained that DI has a no-interference rule, meaning no outside help in practice and tournaments.  The kids are 100 percent responsible for developing their strategies for success. 
At states, the FSS middle-level improvisational team, known as MADCAST, was energized post-challenge and immediately felt great about their performance.  Team member Lexi Richard beamed, “That was by far the best run-through of any of the skits — we adapted it to that pandemonium.  At first we had no idea what to do, and then we adapted, overcame, and we nailed it.  I was really, really happy.” 
MADCAST placed first in the middle-level improvisational category and is headed to the global tournament this May in Tennessee.  There they compete against teams from 45 states, 7 Canadian provinces and 13 countries.  MADCAST is coached by Nicole Roth, Meg O’Leary and Tracy Rhodes. 
The FSS elementary level improvisational team, the Sawyer Striders, placed third in its category. Coached by Min Zhang and Chris Buyuk, this is the first year the Striders were involved in DI.
Veteran DI Coach Susan Unger led her middle-level structure team, the Atoms Family, to the state tournament.  She described the challenge as “a good mix of creativity and science that brings together the arts with technology and engineering.” Unger’s team was awarded the Renaissance Award for outstanding design, engineering and performance this year at regionals.
So what do the kids have to say about DI? Devin Roth said, “I love the element that you don’t really know what’s going to happen at the tournament, so then it really comes down to your teamwork and thinking on your feet. ” Shannon Henderson added, “We all have ideas and we’re all trying to help each other out.” 
Kids saw teamwork as an integral part of the program. Audrey Swartz commented, “We have great teamwork so you never feel left out.”
Caroline Rhodes said, “If we didn’t all work as a team, we really wouldn’t have been able to do anything. So by coming together, it made me the best I could be.”
How does it make kids feel to be a part of a DI team? Michael Kozloski said, “DI makes me feel great. My self-confidence goes even higher. We have great teamwork, and it really is supportive and helpful.”
Tess O’Leary responded, “It’s been a really good experience.  I feel like I can do more and it makes me feel appreciated.”
From the kids’ perspective, DI experiences transfer to school situations. Caroline Rhodes made the connection, “When we’re in school and have to work as a team, it’s easier because I’ve already doing it for three years [at DI].”
Richard saw the link as well and said, “If we have to think of something in school off the top-of-our-head, I’ll be the first one to raise my hand.” 
Tess O’Leary summed it up when she described her team’s success: “It’s about teamwork and friendship and how we can relate to one another.”
The DI program allows kids to take in tools for life through a self-discovery process.  First place or not, it gives kids the opportunity to learn skills for success beyond the traditional academic experience.
Nicole Caligiuri holds a DI information session in September.  The DI Global Tournament’s opening and closing ceremonies will be live-streamed May 21 and 24 at GlobalFinals.org.