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Kennedy students headed for global competition for second year

Carly Hulstein, from left, Jessa Hanson and Addie Erickson perform the closing rap song that was composed for their play for this year's Destination ImagiNation competition. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- When that monster under your bed keeps you up all night telling cheesy jokes, the only thing to do is build a robot to chase it away.

That's the crazy solution that has catapulted a group of fifth-graders from Kennedy Elementary School to the Destination ImagiNation global competition in May.

Destination ImagiNation is a creative problem-solving program open to competitors from kindergarten through college. It operates in all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

The Kennedy Rockin' Robots team from Willmar is going to the global competition in Knoxville, Tenn., May 25-30. Another team from Kennedy, which included some of the same students, earned a trip to global competition a year ago.

The team won first place in regional and state competition. They also received the Renaissance Award at both competitions. The team was praised for its main team challenge and for an instant challenge. Judges praised them for "sophistication beyond their years."

In the main challenge, the team had to build a robot and incorporate it into a skit in which the robot improved a character's life. They also had to incorporate two scene changes. The presentation had to be less than eight minutes long, and the team could spend no more than $150 on it.

In their futuristic program, a boy who wears a rocket pack on his back is scolded for bringing home a bad report card. It has all Fs, except for an A in napping. His excuse is that there's a monster under his bed, and it keeps him up all night telling cheesy jokes.

He's tried bribing the monster with chocolate chip cookies and even tried throwing his smelly socks under the bed. The monster made a scarf out of them. And still, the bad jokes keep on coming.

While he watches his 4D TV at home, he gets the idea to build a robot. The monster, wearing his sock scarf, runs from the robot.

A month later, after getting some sleep, the boy's grades go up in everything, except napping.

The skit closes with the group performing an original rap song.

Once the team members start talking about their project, it's hard to keep up. They are excited to explain how they made their robot and how they made it follow a black line across the floor.

To make the robot, the team members learned to solder, and they used mini-M&M tubes to help stabilize it as it moved across the floor.

"And, of course, we used duct tape," said the team's coach, teacher Amanda Pehrson.

Pehrson said she is proud of the kids and sometimes surprised by their imaginations. "Their minds are always going," she said. "They stretch them as far as they possibly can."

In fact, the monster, Brady Newcomer, said he used duct tape to make some of his costume.

The team of seven fifth-graders said they haven't always agreed on everything. If they disagree, "We'll kinda vote, then talk it over," said Carly Hulstein.

"You have to remember, not everybody's going to agree on the same thing," said Ben Damhof, 11.

Part of the team worked on the robot while others worked on costumes or sets.

Several of the students went to global competition last year, too. They said it's fun to meet people from other countries and to see how people from other cultures have addressed the challenges. They can also go to workshops while they are there.

Pehrson said the students have worked hard and their parents have "hugely supported" their efforts.

It's OK for parents or coaches to show the students how to do things, "as long as they don't do it for us," said Francis Winter, 10.

The team members build their own sets and decorate them. Team member Ben Lanning, made movie posters with robot themes to decorate their character's bedroom -- "Alvin and the ChipClunks" and "Gearbusters."

Some of the kids have learned how to sew. "In three years you can go from not knowing anything about sewing to making costumes," said Addie Erickson, 11.

"It's fun to be in it for three years, because you can do three different challenges," said Jessa Hanson, 11.

Pehrson and her brother, Mark Dethloff, coached the Kennedy Rockin's Robots.

A team of third-graders and fourth-graders included Ethan Panchyshyn, Alan Mangen, Laura Woltjer, Eva Damhof, Maddie Thaden, Carter Alsdurf and Maeve Winter. Theresa Winter was the coach.

Their challenge was to create a puppet which had to interact with a non-puppet character.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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