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It Takes a Village!

by Lisa Brown
June 29, 2017

Last month three Holliston Destination Imagination teams traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee to represent Massachusetts in the annual DI Global Finals tournament.

Last month three Holliston Destination Imagination teams traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee to represent Massachusetts in the annual DI Global Finals tournament. All three teams did very well, with two placing 5th in their challenge category. As I sat through the closing ceremony and watched the top 10 teams announced in each category, I wondered what sets a team apart in a global competition when clearly all of the teams who earned a spot were very talented and hard working.

Anyone who has competed in Destination Imagination knows that it is difficult to place well on the state level, let alone in the global competition which attracts teams from all around the country and this year included teams from 17 other countries. Destination Imagination is an extracurricular education program that has kids compete in one of 6 categories to “solve” a challenge. Although categories have a specific focus such as “scientific” or “service learning”, all challenges include required components of fine arts, science, and technology. While adult managers can help facilitate skill building, we cannot give ideas or contribute to the solution in any way. The purpose of the program is to teach kids the skills they will need for the 21st century including teamwork, integrating ideas to come up with creative solutions, and helping them develop persistence in their work (what some experts call grit).

Over and over again when the top teams were announced at the closing ceremony the same places appeared. The Chinese teams were dominant. Texas also had a very consistent showing of top finishers. In addition, a few names popped up several times. A school district in Deerfield, Illinois and another in Denver, Colorado for example.

As I sat listening to the results, I found myself thinking about what set the top teams apart in such an elite group? The top teams had talented team members, but ALL of the teams at Global Finals had talented kids. It occurred to me that teams that placed high in the competition were successful because in addition to talent they had a community behind them that enabled their success.

Excellent leadership at several levels emerged as a distinguishing factor provided by the community. Excellent leadership includes individual team managers, but just as importantly must also come from the district level. In Holliston we are very fortunate to have Kristine Perlmutter and a team of incredible volunteers who go above and beyond recruiting and registering teams. They also run practice days for DI teams and provide support for new and veteran team managers. These things make a difference and set Holliston up for success.

Great leadership and talented kids still didn’t seem to completely explain what set some teams apart in a group of elite teams. As I heard the same places called over and over, it became clear that the secret ingredient that puts teams over the top is support from back home. Here in Holliston the support for our DI teams reached a new level this year and might explain how a little town at the edge of Metrowest was able to send three teams to global finals who collectively as a group achieved higher than any other town or city in the Commonwealth.

Some support was financial as Hollistonians rallied behind the three globals-bound teams during our ridiculous fundraising efforts. We really appreciated everyone who didn’t unfriend us on Facebook the 30th time we posted a fundraising event. These fundraising efforts were very important to allowing all of the kids who earned their place at Global Finals to participate regardless of their family’s financial means and are an important component of what sets the highest achieving teams apart. 

Important as the financing was however, perhaps the most important community support took other forms. On a bitterly cold March Saturday, several Holliston 5th grade teachers showed up in Bellingham to cheer on their students participating in the Regional competition. In addition to amazing teachers such as Rosalind Fober, Ashley DeRoy and Kerry Perpall, (not to mention Sarah Peters who was supporting both of her children’s teams, as well as her students’), other special guests turned out. Fire Chief Michael Cassidy who worked with one of the teams doing Project Outreach was there to see the 5th grade Neon Owl team perform a fable about the importance of shoveling out your fire hydrant when it snows. All of the kids got a very clear message of what the town thought about their efforts when they looked into the audience and saw that in addition to their families, their teachers and other community members were there cheering them on.

When it came time to fundraise, the kids were very aware that every business in Holliston proudly displayed the donation jars they had made, signaling to the kids that the town was behind them. The members of the school committee were loud cheerleaders and that did not escape the kids, either.  Finally, their excitement hit fever pitch while we were still in the middle of the five day competition when they found out that some of the teachers had shown their challenge presentations in class from the YouTube channel we had set up, while others planned to show them when the kids got back. What better message to the kids that their participation in a competition that centers around problem solving, team work, and creativity has value to the whole community.

I think kids who are on successful, elite sports teams often experience this kind of broad community support, but watching team after team from China win the challenges at Global Finals made me realize that when a team of smart, creative, and hardworking kids get the same kind of support a star sports team gets, they transform from an elite group to the type of group that can dominate a global competition.

So, what is the distinctive factor that takes a talented and hardworking group of kids from doing a good job to performing at the highest levels in the world? Well, I would say that it truly takes a village.

 

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