Thousand Oaks Students to Go On a Global ‘Odyssey of the Mind’

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The girls getting costume ready. From left to right: Ashlyn Loberg, Addison Stolle, Alyssa Wood, Emily Merjan, Lexy Plotkin, Alyssa Rice and in the front of the group is Gracyn Manley

A group of creative Thousand Oaks fifth-graders have been making a name for themselves using their wits and talents in a global competition. The seven Lang Ranch Elementary students–Addison Stolle, Alyssa Rice, Alyssa Wood, Ashlyn Loberg, Emily Merjan, Gracyn Manley and Lexy Plotkin– are members of Odyssey of the Mind, an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college.

“Our girls were the first team started two years ago in third grade when our librarian, Michele Lautterman, brought it to our school,” said parent Cindy Plotkin. “Since then they have encouraged over 20 teams to start up at our school. We actually had another team go to world last year.”

After a recent regional win, the girls took second place in their division in the state of California and are going on to the World Competition in Iowa, May 25th- 29th. “This is an amazing feat and they are the only Conejo Valley team to qualify for world,” said Cindy. “They will be competing along with 800 other teams from around the globe.”

“This is so exciting,” said Lexy Plotkin, 10. “We’ve really enjoyed the past years and have made strong friendships.”

Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and 25 other countries participate in the program, which is comprised of teams of seven students each. The program requires that teams apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. “What’s great about this is that the parents do nothing,” said Katherine Loberg, the team’s parent coach. “The kids do everything.” In fact, kids get penalty points for outside assistance.

At the beginning of each school year, teams are given five problems from which to choose. “We all present the problems and then vote on the one we like the best,” said Ashlyn Loberg, 10.

This year the girls chose to do a theater performance. They get together every Thursday after school to create the required eight-minute skit. On Sunday afternoons, they build and create their own sets, props and costumes. Regional competitions begin in late February/early March, state competitions are held in late March.

This year’s winning presentation is called “Fur, Fins, Feathers and Friends” and involves animals named after candy, a mad scientist and a portal to Candyland. “We’ve done some pretty crazy things,” said Lexy.

This year the girls also received a medal for first place in Style. “But the highlight of the awards ceremony was when they were honored with another special medal for being Odyssey Angels given to teams that incorporated community service with their problem/solution,” said Cindy.

Last year one of the girls on the team had a family friend whose son was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. The team dedicated and created their performance with him in mind. “Our message was hope,” said Ashlyn. “When you have hope, you can keep going.” The girls held a garage sale for the Chad Tough Foundation (www.chadtough.org) and raised over $2000.00.

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The girls at this year’s state competition. From left to right: Ashlyn Loberg, Addison Stoille, Alyssa Wood, Lexy Plotkin, Emily Merjan, Gracyn Manley and Alyssa Rice.

“They had no idea their coach had nominated them,” said Cindy. “I think that was their proudest moment to be honored for Chad’s sake. Sadly he passed away earlier this year, but he was very much with the girls when they won this distinguished award.”

The team’s biggest challenge now is raising the funds to get to the World Competition. “We figured we will need $21,000 to travel to Iowa,” said Ashlyn. So far, they’ve raised $800 through various fundraisers. In addition, the parents will be contributing $1,000 each.

“Amgen has generously agreed to match each parents donation,” said Katherine. But this still isn’t enough.

“It’s going to cost a small fortune getting the seven girls, their coach, and a school district rep, all their sets costumes and props to Ames, Iowa,” said Cindy. “We will take help anyway we can find it, such as corporate matching; tax deductible monetary donations are great but services are vital also such as: shipping, lodging, food and transport businesses.”

For more information about the Lang Ranch team and to donate, go to langranch.pta.org. 


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