Hazlet educator commends her outstanding students


An educator in Hazlet says her multigrade pupils “never cease to amaze her.”

On May 1, Christine Grabowski, a teacher at Middle Road Elementary School in Hazlet, commended her third and fourth grade pupils for emanating what she described as an authentic zeal for knowledge and sportsmanship during the Odyssey of the Mind competitions.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students who are in kindergarten through college.

“When you see what kids can do on their own, it’s amazing,” Grabowski said in an interview with her students on May 1. “I look at this (competition) from the perspective of what we’re learning about life. We are learning about teamwork, cooperation, boundaries, responsibility, and pushing students to do their best.”

Grabowski, who explained that each team of students had a $145 budget to purchase materials for an eight minute problem-solving performance, said the pupils were divided into three teams.

Each team advanced and placed differently in competitions, she said.

According to the Odyssey of the Mind website, the first level of competition is within a region of a state. Advancing teams are then invited to compete at the state level. Championship teams will participate in Odyssey of the Mind World Finals with international teams.

Each team is given a score out of 350 points, Grabowski revealed, which includes a “spontaneous” question students solve without prior knowledge of the task.

Teams, who were supervised by adults, selected one of five scenarios to complete, Grabowski said. Pupils added creative flair to problem-solving performances which required students to conquer engineering, artistic and literary-based tasks.

The Leonardo’s Workshop Team was Janelle Clausi, 10; Alysha Brown, 9; Kevin Twyford, 10; Maya Adamczyk, 9; and Maria Diamantis, 8.

“Basically, we had to create a skit that involved Leonardo Da Vinci creating an invention and there had to be a naysayer who puts the (invention) down. Then we had to show (the invention) working in the present day,” Kevin said.

Grabowski reported that the children used quilling paper to recreate the Leonardo Da Vinici painting, ‘A Portrait of a Musician.’ Cleverly, the student’s interpretation of the 1485 oil painting was only recognizable when a viewer observed the artwork from a distance.

“From close up, it looks a little weird. Once you back up, it looks like the actual (painting),” Janelle said. “We pixelated the image on PhotoShop so we knew where to shade and put the colors.”

Grabowski said the pupils were tasked with recreating a Da Vinci painting in a “non-traditional” material. She said the students conducted research online prior to finalizing and executing their problem-solving performance.

“The students then had to take another invention and make a three dimensional (version). The students did a lot of research on Leonardo Da Vicini and made his scuba suit,” Grabowski said.

“We used a painters suit,” Maria said, adding that “we used paper bags for the sides and wrapped it around with duct tape. We used pipe installation for the top. We also used plate, PVC pipes and wrapped the PVC pipes in duct tape to match the picture.”

The students, who visually recreated Da Vinci’s workshop in their performance, also presented a feline oriented rendition of Da Vinci’s drawing, ‘Vitruvian Man.’ Students adhered to a “cat theme” throughout their performance, she said.

It is routine – and expected – for Odyssey of the Mind students to incorporate creative attributes in competitive performances, Grabowski said.

The Structure Toss Team was Abigail Rehfeld, 10; Nathaniel D’Ambrosio, 9; Nina Corbisiero, 9; Mateo Salas, 9; and Camryn Alexander, 9.

Students explained that they used a device to propel a structure in a carnival game. The structure was then tested for strength, students said.

Abigail, whose classmates referred to her as the team engineer, said she created variations of balsa wood structures – required to weigh less than 15 grams – until she perfected a design intended to support a significant weight.

“We put the structure under the crusher board and then you start putting weights on. The most (weight a wood structure) held was 615 pounds.”

Grabowski said Abigail used a mitre box to guide a hand saw and make precise cuts. Abigail, fastenined diagonal cuts of balsa wood on the inside of the small structure. Her teammates assisted in the construction.

Grabowski said she would videotape the wood structure collapsing so the pupils could “analyze the crush” and identify which areas of the device could be improved upon. She said the students “toasted” the mechanism to help the wood lose weight.

“(Students) had to have a carnival barker character, but instead of making (the performance) like a carnival, (students) created a prom and made the principal the carnival barker,” Grabowski said.

“(The performance) had to have games so they had games at the prom … The students had to create scenery and a skit and come up with other things besides the structure. They also had to use trash items in a creative way,” she said.

The Omer To the Rescue Team includes Eva Cioffi, 9; Jack Davis, 10; Madison Yih, 10;Nicolette Maniscalco, 9; Elana Hennessy, 8; and Desmond Mejia, 9.

This team placed high in the state competition and that enabled these students to advance to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

The Odyssey World Finals will be held from May 22 to May 25 at Michigan State University. The students will compete against 50 international teams, Grabowski said.

According to the competition’s website, “(Students) must assemble and ride on a vehicle where it will function in different ways. Between attempts, the vehicle will be disassembled, put into the suitcases, and taken to a different (performance) area where it will be reassembled and driven again.”

Grabowski said the students purchased a bicycle and “engineered it to make it their own.” The contractable bicycle was engineered to pick up garbage. Students fastened magnets to metal can on a a “selfie stick.” The extended contraption was used to collect the garbage.

Students, who said they chose a wedding theme, said they “wanted to score high on the creativity.”

“The premise of the of this problem was for students to design and engineer a ride-on vehicle to complete tasks,” Grabowski said.

Although she commends her students’ passion for academics, Grabowski said she was exceptionally pleased with the compassion her pupils showed team members who would not advance in the competition.

“I was ready to comfort the kids who were not moving on. I could feel their sadness. But I looked and the student’s (were comforting one another). They didn’t need me because they had each other,” Grabowski said.

Students created paper medals for team members who did not advance in the competition.

Grabowski, who said her pupils consider themselves a family, were presented with an encouraging poster drawn by Eva. The sign read, “The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve been and the memories you’ve made along the way.”