They 'DI'd their best
SSMS team sixth at global finals, gets coveted award

Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

June 13, 2004 -- Sulphur Springs Middle School's Cartoon Dimensions team may not have achieved an overall first place at the Destination Imagination Global Finals in Knoxville, Tenn., but they came away with the much acclaimed DaVinci Award.

"There were a total of 360 teams competing at DI, and 60 teams in our category. Overall we got sixth place, but what was phenomenal was that we got the special judges' award, the DaVinci Award," said Johnny Wells, SSMS teacher and DI sponsor. "We were the only team in the group to receive the award. This was probably a bigger honor than winning first place. This is for best in creativity."

The DaVinci Award, named in honor of creative thinker Leonardo DaVinci, recognizes "individuals and teams who most clearly demonstrate that spirit of adventurous risk in their solutions - those most creatively traveled to reach truly new and unique destinations." The award is given for having a unique approach to a solution, for risk taking, and/or for outstanding creativity rather than skill or talent.

The judges noted SSMS's Cartoon Dimensions team for its "highly theatrical performance" which included "continuous music and sound effects, but not a single spoken word."

"The body language, costumes and props told the story. The ingenious set design was a large - very large-microscope that revealed the humorous antics of biological cells. The team was required only to present a cartoon cell - yet we were thoroughly entertained by a vibrant cartoon about cells. We say 'muy bien' to this ESL team from Sulphur Springs Middle School," the judges wrote of the English as a Second Language team in their DaVinci nomination summary.

The team placed sixth place overall in the intermediate cartoon dimension contest, which awarded points based on performances in three categories including side trips for which they were ranked first and team challenge where they earned third.

In addition to receiving the DaVinci and ranking sixth in the world, the SSMS team was also invited to attend the VIP Corporate Sponsor Luncheon held Friday, May 28.

"The kids had a wonderful time touring the University of Tennessee campus, attending the VIP luncheon where there met with representatives from big businesses and industries. They are the first that I know in five or six years to be invited to attend. They really learned from the experience. The whole trip was an educational experience both culturally and language-wise," Wells said of the team, composed of a unique blend of students from various locations, including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and the United States.

The "blended" ESL team includes eighth graders Fressia Alvarado and Gerson Moreno, seventh graders Blanca Brena and Cintya Vallejo and sixth graders Greysi Alvarado, Armando Tovar and Frankie Govea. In addition to the English-Spanish language barrier between the DI team members and their managers which requires a translator, the "blended" composition of the teammade even more of a communication challenge due to the varied dialects in their speech each brings from their native lands.

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

The team was co-managed by SSHS senior Ian Wells and junior Luke Panter, who themselves competed in the DI global competition in middle school. The pair included working in a regional "instant challenge" workshop. They have also judged the elementary level contests such as those in which Water Oak students compete among their DI experiences. They also both have appeared on the international poster promoting the DI contests and were featured on the DI web site. They also became adept at creative problem solving but also proficient in teaching it.

Another highlight of the outing was the graduation ceremony for seniors opting to attend the DI global finals held during most students' high school commencement ceremonies. The ceremony at UT was especially moving for this unique group of students because one of their team managers received his diploma, but also because Ian Wells was selected as the co-valedictorian of the DI graduation ceremony.

Ian worked for a couple of weeks with his co-valedictorian, a girl who lived within an hour of UT, utilizing the telephone and e-mail to put together a commencement speech and presentation as well as presentations for DI's opening, closing and awards ceremonies.

The end result was what Ian's father - who just so happens to be DI sponsor Johnny Wells - called a "humorous, informative yet touching graduation" speech and a memorable awards ceremony. During the awards ceremony Ian stepped a little bit out of his comfort zone to sing, accompanied on guitar by a Greenville High School graduate wearing a 24-inch red mortar board hat.

The graduation ceremony capped off the exhilarating yet exhausting week with one final twist.

"It was unbelievably great," the DI sponsor said. "There were about 70 graduates. It was an unusual thing. There was this person dressed like a banana in the audience, half peeled. Ian and I both agreed we don't think there could possibly be anyone dressed up like a banana back in Sulphur Springs that got up in the middle of graduation and split."

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