Creative 4th-graders earn regional attention

West Mercer fourth-graders have a knack for ingenuity and know how to show it.

Last month, nearly 20 West Mercer Elementary fourth-graders, fifth-graders, and Islander Middle School students, led by West Mercer teacher Mark Headlee, competed as teams in the state Destination Imagination championship for creativity and problem solving. The West Mercer fourth-grade team qualified for state after winning the Seattle-Metro regional tournament in the structural and architectural design category.

Destination Imagination celebrates student creativity, problem solving and teamwork. Teams of five to seven work together to apply critical thinking and their individual talents in solving one of several challenges.

Headlee, who introduced the competition to Island students last year, brought three teams to the 2008 Seattle-Metro regional championship. Although it is Headlee’s second time coaching Island youth for Destination Imagination, his role in the competition goes back years.

“We got involved because I headed the program at a private school in Iowa, where I taught before West Mercer,” he said. “It’s a great program. I’ve done it for many years and coached kids from grade four all the way through college.”

Headlee has been working with his Island teams since November, when they first received their Destination Imagination challenge and could not be more enthusiastic about the program.

“The students quickly learn that there’s no such thing as a problem. Everything seems to be a challenge that can be solved,” he said.

The team of West Mercer fourth-graders were especially successful. Participating in the structural and architectural design category, they were asked to build a structure out of wood and glue that could hold up Olympic barbell weights without breaking. The design could not weigh more than 22 grams and needed to be at least 7.5 inches tall with two switchable “orientations.” Along with this test of engineering, the group was required to perform a skit to demonstrate the theme “switch.”

“They worked really, really well together,” Headlee said. “It was a balanced team. We had three engineer types on the team and four kids that liked to do the theatrical part.”

After winning the regional competition in their category, the fourth-grade team, which includes students Alexa Bauman, Ellie Bernstein, Jasper Hugunin, Gabien Na, Zach Sand, Katherine Seely and Aidan Wang, traveled to Wenatchee for the state tournament on March 29. Although they did not qualify for nationals, the creative group put in a worthy performance.

“I watched the show they had worked on. It was great — so much fun,” said team member Alexa Bauman’s mother, Kathy. “They all have their different strengths. It’s an interesting dynamic for these kids — so interactive and action-packed.”

The West Mercer fifth-grade and IMS team also earned due attention; West Mercer took sixth place in the technical/mechanical regional competition, and IMS took third place in the theater arts/improvisation category. Headlee expects his teams to participate in Destination Imagination next year, fresh with new ideas and enthusiasm.

“They had a great time,” the coach said.

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