Photo: Charlton Heights fifth-grade students Stella Kibler (center), Emme Fischer (kneeling), Paige Reyes (rear left), Caroline Welsh, Arden Heiner and Lucy Cap (far right) were crowned Odyssey of the Minds world champions May 30, submitting a 15 minute video and solving a timed challenge via Google Meet.
BALLSTON SPA — Six Charlton Heights fifth-graders spent their school year solving problems as part of Odyssey of the Mind competitions.
In the end?
They became world champions.
After earning first place at the regional competition hosted by Shenendehowa in March, Arden Heiner, Caroline Welsh, Emme Fischer, Lucy Capo, Paige Reyes and Stella Kibler then had another variable challenging them as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the state competition. Their journey wasn’t over, though, as they were advanced with other regional winners to compete — virtually — in the world championships.
The group faced 117 teams on May 30, submitting a 15-minute video that included an eight-minute performance, and the remaining time devoted to describe the video’s artistic elements.
The Charlton Heights group, coached by seventh-grade math teacher Kodi Kibler and parent Sara Welsh, were challenged with “The Effective Detective problem.” It challenged the group to explain the mystery of how the Tunguska Forest in Russia exploded in 1908, flattening 770 square miles of forest in a creative performance.
Another challenge was that the team’s scenery and props had to fit into one 24 by 19 by 19 box.
While Charlton Heights and Kibler have a history of success at the world competitions, they had never achieved the top prize until this year.
“Last year, our Odyssey of the Mind team placed third at the World Championships, and Kodi Kibler coached another Charlton Heights OM team to second place in (2006),” Tim Sennenburg, Charlton Heights Elementary School principal, said in a phone interview. “I told the girls before the competition that this was their chance to bring home a first-place win to the school and the community. They certainly responded so well to the challenge.”
The Charlton Heights team was led by a unique ballerina detective with other members playing the roles of animals on the hunt for food and a mother dragon trying to protect her baby during the catastrophic event.
After the team’s video submission, the competition went into a live mode with a spontaneous problem-solving session. In previous competitions, the team would be sent to a room to solve the problem; this year the group logged onto a Google Meet site and had a 25-minute time limit.
“It was so stressful watching the clock go down,” Stella Kibler said in an email. “We were trying to come up with the most creative answers and we hit submit with six seconds left.”
With a first-place finish in the virtual performance category and second-place finish in the spontaneous problem category, Charlton Heights was crowned as the world champions.
“I like how we work as a team and we use our own thoughts to create a skit without adult help,” Reyes said in an email. “We learned how to think creatively with a limited amount of time to solve a problem.”
“This year was more challenging because we couldn’t compete in person,” Fischer said. “We had to do a virtual performance and explain our skit to the judges.”
The group also earned the Rantra Fusca Award given to the team that shows highly creative aspects of their solution.
With the prop limitations, the Charlton Heights team engineered its tree props to expand and then instantly transform, looking like they were on fire.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get to perform live at world finals but I am still glad that they came up with a way that we still got to compete — because I also love competing,” Stella Kibler said. “I still can’t believe we are world champions.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.