TOWNSHEND -- What do you get when you blend wood, glue, something called monofilament, and a dash of theatrics?
For a handful of girls at Townshend Elementary School, it got them a state title.
After months of preparation, the team made up of sixth-graders Margaret Adams, Avery White, Kirsten Munson, Isabela Schmidt and Madison Chase took first place in the structural challenge of the Destination Imagination (DI) state competition in Burlington on March 22, though Chase was unable to attend the event because her family was on vacation in Florida.
Destination Imagination bills itself as a non-profit, volunteer-led, cause-driven organization and each state holds an annual competition that combines performance art with academic categories. Teams throughout each state pick a challenge and work on their projects until the competition.
The Townshend team picked the structural challenge and had to use performance art to explain what tension is from a structural and engineering standpoint. The girls called their seven-minute skit "Townshend Toy Tension" and acted as toys in a fictional young girl's bedroom. They bested four other schools by demonstrating tension as it relates to a jack-in-the-box, an alarm clock, a wind-up toy and various yoga positions. They also had to continuously add weights to the wooden structure they had built to show what the stress would do to it.
"I am very, very happy (I signed up). I will definitely do it again," White told the Reformer on Thursday, though she hopes to pick a new category next year. "That would be nice, that way I don't have to do the same challenge."
With the victory, the Townshend girls qualify to compete at Nationals in Knoxville, Tenn., however they will not be able to go because a school trip to the Grand Canyon is scheduled for the same week in May. The school has generated $16,000 in funds for the trip and would have to raise more to get to Nationals.
The team started meeting in November 2013 and met once a week until this month, when they worked through their recess and lunch times every day and after school a few times a week with team leader Jennifer Connor, who left Monday with the Journey East program at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.
Heidi Russ, the administrative assistant to the principal of Townshend Elementary School and the site coordinator of its after-school program, said she heard about Destination Imagination from friends and acquaintances in other states and starting looking into ways of developing a team at her school. She said the girls enjoyed learning how to incorporate science and engineering into a performance piece.
"They had a fantastic time. They were always engaged," Russ said.
Adams, 12, told the Reformer she got involved in the DI team after seeing the sign-up sheet that was going around the school. She said she is glad she joined and plans to do it again next year.
"It was a lot of fun," she said. "It was really hard because you had a bunch of things you had to have in it."
White, 11, said she also saw the sign-up sheet and thought Destination Imagination sounded interesting. Munson, 12, said she had a close call, as she was planning on joining another school club before seeing a demonstration and choosing DI instead.
"It was a really good decision," she said, adding that she has told her friends and classmates, who are really proud of her and her team.
Schmidt, too, said she became interested after seeing a demonstration. Her character in the skit was the one who stacked weights on the wooden structure to demonstrate how much stress it could take before breaking. Russ said Chase worked with her teammates on building the structure and researching wood. She had planned to be in the skit until learning a month before the competition that her family would be on vacation. Russ said the girls took the news in stride and still put together a successful skit.
Thara Fuller, director of the Windham Central Supervisory Union's after-school programs funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, said it was wonderful to be an observer during the group's skit in Burlington.
"The team had to develop a structure, incorporating that structure into a skit and creating a technical prop. Their structure weighed in at 79.6 ounces (they were allowed a total of 80 ounces) of wood, glue and monofilament," she said in a statement. "This structure had several other constraints which the team worked through, allowing them to create a structure, at 7 inches tall that held a total weight of 240 pounds, more than twice as much as any other team that has competed. The judges were amazed at how much the structure held and had lots of questions for the girls after they competed."
Fuller also said the costs to participate in the program were offset by a donation from the Thrifty Attic in Jamaica, as well as funding from the grant.
"We all felt this program would fit beautifully with our goals in the after-school program to promote critical thinking and problem solving in a really hands-on, engaging way," she said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.