HAZLET – Students at Middle Road Elementary School in Hazlet were awarded spot No. 21 out of 54 international teams that competed in the elementary division of the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

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

In an interview on May 29 with the students and their teacher, Christine Grabowski, the pupils said the most memorable aspect of the academic competition was the friendships they formed with pupils from other countries.

The competition was held at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., from May 22-25.

Previously, Grabowski commended all of her third and fourth grade pupils for displaying what she described as an authentic zeal for knowledge and sportsmanship during competitions.

The pupils in Grabowski’s class were divided into three teams that competed at regional and state levels.

One team reached the World Finals: the team consisting of Eva Cioffi, 9, Jack Davis, 10, Madison Yih, 10, Nicolette Maniscalco, 9, Elana Hennessy, 8, and Desmond Mejia, 9.

According to the competition’s website, students were required to “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 contractible bicycle was engineered to complete several tasks.

But the final performance did not go as planned, Grabowski said.

“There was a misinterpretation (between) the national organization and the New Jersey organization … (The students) did not get (certain) points, but it’s OK. We talked about it. And overall, (the students) went out there and did their best. They worked hard and they learned something great. There were so many other awesome moments at (the competition),” Grabowski said.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Grabowski.

The students described their experiences with pupils from other countries. The children said they took part in what they described as an Odyssey of the Mind tradition – trading pins.

Pins are representative of a team’s country of origin.

“There are some super duper rare pins,” Eva said, adding that some of her favorite pins are a laptop, which opens and closes, and the “rare” humming bird.

The students explained that they had a “buddy team” from Hong Kong, China.

According to the organization, Odyssey of the Mind offers World Finals teams from the United States and Canada the opportunity to serve as “Buddy Teams” to international teams participating in the finals.

Students, who said they were required to temporarily reside in college dorms, said they enjoyed spending time with their new friends from China.

“Our buddy team was the one we spent the most time with. We lived in the dorms with them. So our rooms were adjacent to their rooms … We all would leave our doors open and they would just all hang out. It was like a slumber party every night. Or like college,” Grabowski laughed.

The teams exchanged gifts. Grabowski said her students brought the Hong Kong pupils T-shirts and salt water taffy from the New Jersey Shore.

She added the pupils from China “brought us tomato flavored seaweed … and hand-written cards.”

All of the students, except for Eva, were displeased with the taste of the vegetable flavored algae, Grabowski said, showing a video of all of her students tasting the seaweed for the first time.

Although they are from different areas of the world, Grabowski said “the teams instantly connected.” She noted that her students also engaged with pupils from Switzerland, Poland and Mexico.

The students agreed that their favorite part of the competition was interacting and trading pins with pupils from different walks of life.

Grabowski said the students cheered on teams from other countries during their performances, and she said the international pupils did the same for the Hazlet youngsters.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Grabowski.

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