Breaking Down Barriers
Communications challenges didn't stop these English as a Second Language students from reaching the DI global finals

Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

April 14, 2004 -- If the attention Sulphur Springs Middle School's Destination Imagination global finalists are garnering from contest organizers is anything to go by, the trend-setting English as a Second Language Cartoon Dimensions team could very well walk away with the world championship.

The school may also be single-handedly responsible for coming up with an entirely new DI competition category.

The Cartoon Dimensions team, managed by Sulphur Springs High School senior Ian Wells and junior Luke Panter, is composed of a unique blend of students from various locations including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and the United States -- and one translator.

"This is an ESL team competing in an English speaking contest," SSMS DI sponsor Johnny Wells said. "They don't think in English, and this contest requires you to think on the spot, so they have to have a translator."

Because the team's members come from so many different places, they speak different dialects, adding to the communications challenge.

The contest requires teams to create and present an original cartoon which they "bring to life for the judges" in eight minutes. With the students' limited understanding of English, one would think the students would be at an added disadvantage. Instead, they have opted for nonverbal communication for the project.

They also chose to present their cartoons in black and white, another novelty in itself.

So far, it's all paying off, and the international community is definitely paying attention to the ESL team.

"They are a very unusual team in their solutions and the sort of team they are," Johnny Wells said. "We've been contacted by the international team because they've not seen a team like this that has had such success. The international office said we're setting a trend for other types of teams. They are always looking for other types of groups."

How did the idea come about? The eighth grade gifted and talented students held a brain storming session, then approached Ian Wells and Luke Panter, who had been to the DI global competition in middle school. The pair's past DI experience and their other activities would make them good role models and mentors for the middle school ESL students. Wells and Panter had worked in a regional "instant challenge" workshop and have judged elementary level contests. The pair have also appeared on the international poster promoting the DI contests and were featured on the DI website. They also became adept at creative problem solving and proficient in teaching it.

"There's another unusual thing about this group and concept," Johnny Wells said. "Some of the eighth graders that came up with the idea (in the brainstorming session) ended coming up against the ESL team."

SSMS's other Cartoon Dimensions team of Jake Moreland, Stephen Kramer, Whitney Hu, Rachel Carrington, Daci West, Cole Cable, Lyndsi Bible and managers Karen Moreland and Mary Cable actually upstaged the ESL Cartoon Dimensions team at regionals by taking first place to the innovative team's second.

Both of the teams advanced to the state DI meet, where this time the ESL team came out on top, advancing to the global finals to be held May 27-29, in Knoxville, Tenn. (The other SSMS cartoon team placed fifth in the state).

Also competing at the state meet was the first place regional GuessDImate team of Jake Russell, Trevor Johnson, Kelsey Brown, Mallorie Taylor, Cody Morgan, Andrew Panter and mangers Lynette King, Mike Smith and Connie Johnson; and the Upbeat Improv team of John Latham, Dusty McQueen, Brydrick Wright, Autumn Keis, William McCauley, Brittney Woolley, Taylor Moor and manager Johnny Wells.

ESL Cartoon Dimensions team member Gerson Moreno received the "Spirit of DI Award" at the regional meet, which was also notable, and, for a time, it looked like neither Wells nor Panter would be there to coach the team.

Wells and Panter were slated to participate in the District 11-4A University Interscholastic League Academic meet held at McKinney North High School the same day as the DI regional contest, which was in Mesquite. Wells placed first in prose interpretation and was a member of the second place speech team, while Panter was a member of the first place current events team. They then rushed across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where they coached the ESL team to second place.

The team managers said that while the group's goal was to be ready for regionals and have a chance to compete, they didn't expect to do so well. They consider competing at globals an honor, but said the real reward is seeing the progress the cartoon crew has made, not only as a team but also individually.

"It's been an extremely positive experience for all," Johnny Wells said. They have shown tremendous problem solving skills and their competency in English has really improved."

Ian Wells will certainly leave the three-day event in Tennessee with more than the knowledge they have likely made DI history. After long thought, Ian Wells decided to honor his commitment to the team and attend the May 27-29 contest, even though it would mean he will have to miss his high school graduation. But the DI group has a special arrangement that will allow Wells to receive his high school diploma on the University of Tennessee stage.

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