Big News!!

17 Apr


The team also won coveted Ranatra Fusca Award a second time at state finals.


Palmetto Bay, FL, April 17, 2015 – Solutions to problems are often based in creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking, which is why the Howard Drive Elementary School 2015 Odyssey of the Mind team of seven children decided to tackle this year’s competition topic, “Pandora’s Box,” with a most fantastic skit. Fantastic indeed—the team’s skit garnered several wins and awards and will take them to the Odyssey of the Mind World Competition in Michigan, May 20th-24th!

Odyssey of the Mind is a worldwide phenomenon where school clubs compete to solve a topic with imaginative thinking. The HDE team includes Ella De Castro; Kristopher Menendez; Stevie Ricklick; Hannah Shearer; Nicole Soden; Lorenzo Vinueza; and Samuel Walton-Wormull—all are in the 4th grade Cosmos (gifted) program. This is the third time a team from HDE will compete in the World Competition (4th place, 2013; 1st place, 2014).

The HDE team also took home the coveted Ranatra Fusca Award at the district level and again at the state level—a significant accomplishment. This special award, named for the water strider insect, is a very rarely given recognition that embodies the very goals of the Odyssey program, which is to be as creative as possible. The judges noted one of the more intricate set design ideas, which came from the students’ participation in their Cosmos gifted science class. The team members studied the buoyancy of materials through hands-on experimentation and then took what they learned that day in class and applied their knowledge to create flowers that actually grow when watered during the skit. Corks, attached to the flower stems inside pots, raise the flower heads when water is added and this creates the illusion that the flowers actually grow.

“This team showed exceptional creativity by applying the technology of buoyancy in the ‘growing’ flowers. The creativity of all of their props and level of risk taking was evident in their garden theme solution. Your creativity was definitely ‘out of the box.’ WAY TO GO!!!!” stated the judges’ comments from the recent state competition in Orlando on April 11th, where the team placed 3rd in Florida for their division.


“This team showed exceptional creativity
by applying the technology of buoyancy in the ‘growing’ flowers. The creativity of all of their props and level of risk taking was evident in their garden theme solution. Your creativity was definitely ‘out of the box.’ WAY TO GO!!!!”

“This is an extreme honor for us to have won the Ranatra Fusca Award both at the district and state levels!” said team coach Gina Vinueza, mother of Lorenzo, who was on last year’s 1st-place winning HDE Odyssey team with his older sister, Sofia. (Sofia, now at Palmetto Middle School and in the Division 2 team, also competed at the state level, but her team will not be moving on to the World Competition. The team is, however, awaiting word on its anti-bullying community service project, which is up for a separate award called Odyssey Angels.)

“Our HDE kids are over the moon to see all of their hard work pay off, and their involvement with Odyssey of the Mind will, no doubt, positively impact them as they grow older and consider new projects, clubs or problems. They have all learned that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” says Vinueza, and Judith Walton-Wormull, mother to Samuel and also a team coach, agrees.

“My son, who is normally shy, can’t wait to get on stage in front of everyone. It’s really boosted his confidence and it’s lovely to see this change in him,” says Walton-Wormull.

With HDE’s strong history of winning at the World Competition, this year’s new HDE team is cautiously optimistic. Knowing that they have big shoes to fill, the students are bursting with nervous energy and excitement about their recent win and the prospect of advancing to compete at the World Competition.

“We are so proud of our students and pleased about all of their success,” says HDE Principal Deanna Dalby. “HDE has some of the brightest young minds, the best teachers and the most dedicated parents, and we’re so happy that one way the world can see this is through our participation with Odyssey of the Mind—this is big for all of us.”

“We are so delighted for our kids,” said Robert Shearer, father of Hannah. “Their discipline to practice is inspiring and their tenacity and willingness to redirect when there are challenges shows how committed they are. These are qualities that they’ve had to develop in order to work together. As a parent, it’s a painstaking, but beautiful process to witness in this age group.”

For the competition, there were five problems to choose from and for each problem a team of between five and seven children had to solve the problem, write a skit, make a set, make costumes, write the songs and perform. The problems can be technical, creative and challenging.

This year’s eight-minute HDE team skit features a “gamer” whose video games are taken away because of his bad manners. Subsequently, the gamer is forced to read “boring” books. While reading, the gamer falls asleep and wakes in the Garden of Eden, where he has to learn three types of manners (sharing, saying please and thank you, and being punctual). When the gamer solves the problem and learns his manners, hope, in the form of a monarch butterfly, is released into the world.

The children wrote the entire skit, which has a video-game feel complete with insects; created and sang four songs; designed all of their costumes; and constructed two sets, which rotate for the skit.

“Even though there were little hiccups along the way, the HDE team has obviously really impressed the judges with its problem solution,” said Michelle Castro, mother of Ella. “It’s so rewarding to see the team be recognized with such a prestigious award and placement, so whatever happens at the World Competition, we’re happy they’ve gone this far.”

The hard part begins now: fundraising. According to Vinueza, the team will have to raise just under $20,000 to pay for the costly registration fee, the airfare and hotel rooms for the students, and shipping the set out to Michigan.

“We’re currently looking for sponsors, businesses or individuals to highlight on our T-shirts and with a banner. We have a lot of funds to raise in a short amount of time, so we have to hustle,” says Vinueza who added that any donation is tax deductible.

For more on the Odyssey of the Mind competition, visit the organization’s website:

To donate to the team, visit the team’s YouCaring online fundraising account at

To sponsor the HDE team, please email Gina Vinueza at or call her at (786) 473-3311.