The Future is Bright with Destination Imagination

By Shelby Deering

Imagine a room full of children cheering, engaged, bright smiles on their faces.  The reason for their excitement? LEARNING.

Destination Imagination is an amazing program that has a reach in 48 states and 30 countries—and we are lucky that it has found a home in the Geneva Lakes area, where it has been welcomed and embraced with great enthusiasm.

The global program, which is astoundingly all volunteer-led, provides challenges to teams of youths from kindergarten through 12th grade, along with teams of college-age participants. To say that it’s hands-on is an understatement. The challenges focus on the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning. In their mission statement, Destination Imagination says that their participants “learn patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas and the collaborative problem-solving process.”

And these are all activities that are happening beyond the classroom, engaging students in practices that allow them to apply what they’re learning in school in fun and creative ways.

There are Destination Imagination chapters in several communities throughout Wisconsin, and here in the Geneva Lakes area, South Central Destination Imagination serves communities along the Wisconsin border up through the Madison area.

Jessica Gile, co-regional director of the South Central Chapter indicates the following schools participated last year: Beloit-Aldrich Intermediate; Beloit Fruzen Intermediate; Beloit McNeel Intermediate; Beloit Merrill Elementary; Beloit Todd Elementary; Delavan-Darien; Elkhorn; Lake Geneva; Parkview School District; and Woods School.

Originally called “Odyssey of the Mind,” Destination Imagination was incorporated in 1982 and the organization officially took over the local Odyssey of the Mind charter in 1999.

THE LAKE GENEVA PROGRAM:  A SUCCESSFUL YEAR

The Destination Imagination program in Lake Geneva flourished during the 2016-2017 year, achieving success at the local, regional and national level. Their year culminated by attending the Global Competition in Knoxville, Tennessee in May. Dave Torgerson served as program director of the Lake Geneva Schools’ Destination Imagination program as they experienced these triumphs.

“My wife and I have been involved in the program since 1989, when our own children were involved,” he says. “All three of my children were in the program the rest of their school-age years. We now have had two of our grandchildren in the program, and my son Ryan and I coached our eldest grandkid. His team advanced to Globals, in a three-generation team. They placed fourth in one aspect of the competition out of 812 teams from around the world.” Torgerson explains that the program starts in September with the start of the school year and culminates in May at the Global Competition.

This past year’s team is the 19th team from the Lake Geneva area to compete at the Global Competition. This year also marked only the third time a fifth-grade team advanced to the competition. The Lake Geneva program has sent at least one team to the competition 13 times in the last 15 years, and in 28 years of the program, one team has taken first place, which, according to Torgerson, is “very difficult as you are generally up against 80 to 100 other teams.”

Torgerson knows from experience that, in his words, it’s “a unique program where parents and grandparents can teach and transfer their knowledge and experiences enabling the student to reapply the new skills in solving team based challenges, all while using creativity and problem-solving skills.”

Through his many years of volunteering with the program, Torgerson has witnessed its power and effectiveness among students first-hand. “With today’s youth less exposed to hands-on learning, every child should participate in Destination Imagination at least one year. There are great shortages in the tech and service industry that will only get worse. Destination Imagination exposes students to these needed careers early enough that they can tailor their high school classes and find their niche while still in our school district.”

PARTICIPANTS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE

There are several elements that Destination Imagination programming centers on, whether teams are located in Wisconsin or in Europe, Asia or the Middle East. They include: recognize, imagine, initiate and collaborate, assess and evaluate and celebrate. These are skills that not only guide students at the tournaments in which their know-how is put to the test, but throughout other areas of their lives as well.

And participants use these elements in open-ended team challenges that change from year to year and revolve around the following topics: engineering, technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, service learning and the early learning challenge (for preschool children through second grade). There’s also an “instant challenge” in which team members engage in quick, on-the-spot brainstorming.

Results from recent studies have undoubtedly confirmed the effectiveness of Destination Imagination among students. In studies completed at the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee, with an additional study carried out by Dr. Mark A. Runco, professor of Educational Psychology for the Torrance Creativity Center at the University of Georgia, the results proved that Destination Imagination participants are more creative than their non-participating counterparts.

They were able to brainstorm more ideas as compared to non-participants. And it was found that Destination Imagination students generally do better in school and outperform those who hadn’t been in the program.

VOLUNTEERS ARE THE KEY

And the program and team achievements are made possible through the selfless time and efforts put in by volunteers, explains Dawn Dupee, co-regional director of the South Central chapter.

Dupee says, “We rely 100 percent on volunteers. Without them, we would not have had such success with running the regional tournament this year, and hopefully any fundraising opportunities that we may have in the future.”

Gile explains that she and Dupee “are volunteers” alongside many of the team managers, parent volunteers, tournament volunteers, officials and appraisers, merchandise volunteers and more. Globally, the program has reached more than 1.5 million kids, supported by an impressive 38,000 volunteers.

Both Dupee and Gile applaud the program for its attentiveness to “creativity, teamwork and problem solving.”

Plus, Gile says “many Destination Imagination skills that are learned and the friendships developed are lifelong.”

This has certainly been the case in Dupee’s home. She says, “Before I took on the role as co-director, I coached my son and daughter for four years. They went to Globals (Global Competition) in 2015 with two other teams from Lake Geneva. The talent that is displayed in this program is amazing.” She adds that she “can attest to the lifelong friendships that are forged within the Destination Imagination family.”

“The friendships [my son and daughter] created are still strong, and the majority of both teams are still involved with the volunteer process to continue the successes of Destination Imagination at a new level.”

Another finding from the Destination Imagination studies said that participants were “more self-confident and tenacious” than non-participants. Being able to solve a challenge is rewarding and satisfying to anyone, but it is especially to children who are learning who they are and are newly discovering their talents.

Dupee sums it up best with a motto that makes the rounds in her home: “We are a Destination Imagination family. We can fix this.”

For more information on Destination Imagination, visit their website at destinationimagination.org.

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