A pink mouse costume and ten prototypes later, a crack team of eighth graders from La Merced Intermediate in Montebello is heading to Knoxville, Tennessee where they will test their physics and acting skills against those of teams from all over the world.
The international competition pits teams from over thirty countries in a complex challenge concocted by Destination ImagiNation, an educational nonprofit that holds an annual multi-disciplinary problem solving competition.
This year’s challenge is to create a wooden structure weighing less than 50 grams that can hold a significant amount of weight while golf balls are fed into it, and they must do it all with style by developing a skit around their project.
La Merced Intermediate’s team, which calls itself “Limitless Freedom,” is among the 125,000 students from the United States who will compete in this year’s competition. They qualified through two rounds – a regional competition in South Pasadena and a state competition in Clovis, CA. After facing off against teams with names like Ninja Bunnies and Beaver Frenzy, they expect to meet even wackier teams as they represent California at the “Global Finals” later this month at the University of Tennessee from May 23 through 26.
This is the first year La Merced Intermediate’s team has qualified for the international competition. They have already raised $10,000 of the $12,000 they need for travel, hotel and registration expenses through bake sales, car washes, raffles and donations from local businesses, but still need help to raise the rest.
Limitless Freedom team member Emiko Estrada, 14, says she is excited to be representing California at the competition. “We feel very lucky to have made it this far…,” she said. “This will be the experience of a life time and we’re all looking forward to it.”
Limitless Freedom is comprised of La Merced Intermediate eighth graders Cristian Herrera, Savannah Tapia, Anthony Murphree, David Lima, Nathan Rosales, Estrada, and team captain Gabriel Macias. All of the members are part of the gifted and talented program at their school and describe themselves as good friends. They are all fourteen years old with the exception of Rosales, who is thirteen.
In preparation for their competitions, the team worked ten to fifteen hours a week putting together a skit in which their seven members, dressed as either cats or mice, manipulate golf balls into a structure built out of wood and glue. Their structure weighs 45 grams, but can withstand 500 pounds, said their faculty advisor Martha Bailey.
“We did hours worth of research picking correct kinds of wood to make it strong,” team member Murphree said. They finally found what they needed at a hobby shop in West Covina.
Their skit revolves around a struggle for cheese between cats and mice. The boys who wear hats with two large ears sticking out are the mice, and the girls are dressed as the cats with their small pointy-eared headbands. Macias, the captain and tallest member of the team, wears a bright pink mouse costume made out of thermal underwear and duct tape. Their set’s backdrop is a six-foot tall book that allows them to change scenes by turning the pages.
Every part of the project was thought up and built by the students, says Bailey. They built their own set, made their own costumes, wrote the script, researched the wood and glue needed to build their structure, and even learned how to build a robot to push the golf balls into their structure.
The prepared skit and structure is just one part of the competition. They must also solve another challenge given to them during the competition and use whatever materials are provided to them at the time to solve the problem.
Bailey says the Destination ImagiNation competitions go beyond just the concepts the students learn in school. “I can teach them things, but they have to come up with their own solutions,” she says.
Because of the size and delicate nature of their structures and sets, Bailey will be transporting the students’ structure and set pieces by car, while the students travel to Tennessee by airplane.
She says the team has worked out whatever kinks they experienced at previous competitions and are “ready to rock and roll” at the upcoming finals in Tennessee.
A video of the team’s competition show can be viewed on YouTube .
Donations toward the team’s trip to the international competition can be sent to La Merced Intermediate School, Attention: Martha Bailey, 215 E. Avenida de la Merced, Montebello, CA 90640. If you have any questions, call (323) 722-7262 to speak to Martha Bailey.