Students from Freeport, Pownal, Durham on a problem-solving quest

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FREEPORT — What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says the words “stellar hangout?”

Maybe a space-bound diner or a chat room on Mars?

On April 7, Regional School Unit 5 students Peter Sachs, Leo O’Connor, Shiloh Munsen, Maysa O’Connor and Zach Flood showed the Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament in Bangor what a stellar hangout would look like to them.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program whose mission is to provide creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. By solving open-ended problems, the program believes, students develop creative-thinking skills that can be applied to real-life situations. 

The RSU 5 team’s eight-minute skit – which involved a hungry dung beetle alien, a chef alien, a squid-fighting server, a singing cat alien, a map and a shortage of mustard – won first place and a spot in the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Ames, Iowa, May 23-26.

But first, the students need to raise about $1,300 each to get their team, including their two coaches, Melanie Flood and Melanie Sachs, to the contest. The team’s YouCaring page had raised $850 of the $4,000 goal as of May 1. 

Approximately 850 teams from around the world will compete later this month in the “largest creative problem-solving program in the world.” Each team must perform their long-term problem, which they’ve practiced for months, as well as a short-term, or spontaneous, project which they won’t know about until competition day.

This, Peter Sachs said, could be something like a verbal challenge, such as replacing the “apple” and “doctor” in “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” in the most creative way possible. Or it could be building the tallest possible structure they can from mailing labels, dried spaghetti and mini marshmallows. 

Munsen said coaches can provide guidance to the team, but everything that goes into their long-term skit has to be imagined and created by them with no outside help.

“I have been lucky enough to coach Odyssey of the Mind teams for the past seven years, with teams in grades 5-11,” Melanie Sachs said. “OM allows kids to be creative, to have confidence in their own skills and abilities, and to develop problem solving and collaborative skills that have such important implications as they move forward.”

Sachs said to her knowledge, theirs is the first team from RSU 5 to win an OM state championship.

And this truly is an RSU5 team: siblings Leo and Maysa O’Connor are from Durham, Munsen is from Pownal and Peter Sachs and Zach Flood are from Freeport.

Each brings something different to the table.

Munsen, for instance, loves theater and the performing arts, while Maysa O’Connor is drawn towards the visual arts. 

“We’re all pretty like-minded to some extent and generally friendly people who like to work with other people’s ideas … it’s a very open process,” Munsen said. “To get the most creative solution possible … it’s not like my way is the way.”

Just as they enjoy learning from one another, the team said they’re looking forward to meeting other teams from around the globe.

“I’m looking forward to the diverse showing of scripts,” Zach Flood said. “It’ll be neat to see how others attack the same problem and guidelines.”

“It’s people from around the world there for the same reason and it’s just a very special experience,” Peter Sachs added.

Less than a month out from the World Championship, the team is feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Leo O’Connor said he’s looking forward to flying for the first time.

As a creativity competition, Zach Flood said, “the scariest thing is the prospect of seeing your production verbatim being done by another team.”

But all in all, the team members agree their main goal is to have a good time. 

“Other countries get really into the competition, (but) we’re not feeling super anxious, like we have to win,” Munsen said. “I think we’re just there to enjoy it and that takes some of the pressure off.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

From left, Regional School Unit 5 students Leo O’Connor, Maysa O’Connor, Shiloh Munsen, Peter Sachs and Zach Flood took home first place at the Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament last month. In three weeks, the team will compete in the 2018 World Finals at Iowa State University.