Manatee County is home to some of the best balsa-wood architects and robot programmers in the state.
Four teams of students are headed to the international “Odyssey of the Mind” World Finals, thanks to their top-place finishes in both regional and state-wide events. Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication is sending two teams — one of current students and one of alumni. The State College of Florida Collegiate School and Braden River High School are sending teams, as well.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international problem-solving competition where students spend months collaborating on a project. Up to seven students work as a team with no adult help. The World Finals will be held at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan from May 24 to 28.
Samantha Robinson introduced the program to Rowlett Academy 12 years ago, and she is coaching two teams headed to the world competition in May. Robinson said she has coached more than 100 students through the program, and the benefits are obvious.
“I saw the process of team problem-solving without adult assistance (as) a valuable skill for students,” Robinson said. “My former (students) attribute their successes, in college and beyond, to the foundation built in the Odyssey of the Mind program.”
Rowlett’s fourth and fifth-grade teams built a balsa-wood structure that weighed less than a tenth of a pound yet was capable of holding 500.5 pounds, according to a press release from the school. And the alumni team, composed of high school students who had competed in Odyssey of the Mind while elementary students at Rowlett Academy, had a budget of $145 to design a multifunctional robot. The students did it for $129.35.
Christine Sket, the program coordinator and coach at Rowlett Academy, said roughly 100 students participate in the program at Rowlett each year, and the students will be raising money to pay their way.
“Earning their way to World Finals extends beyond the problem solving aspects, it teaches them the value of working hard,” Sket said.