This week, six students from Louisa May Alcott Elementary School near Redmond and their families are traveling to Tennessee to participate in the Global Finals of the Destination Imagination (DI) competition in Knoxville.
Alcott’s Awesome Assemblers — made up of fourth and fifth graders — will compete from May 22-25.
“To make a long story short, I feel like a celebrity,” fifth-grader Sid Vijay said about having a chance to participate in something not many people have the opportunity to do.
Fifth-grader Ayan Gupta also acknowledged that competing in the Global Finals — which will have students from 49 states and 33 countries competing — is a big opportunity that they may not get again.
Alongside Sid and Ayan are fourth-graders Samarjit Kaushik, Patrick Pierson and Luke Jianu and fifth-grader Vedantha Venkatapathy. Together, they will compete in the Technical Challenge category of Elementary School Division at the DI Global Finals, which is the top level of an international tournament that celebrates creativity, according to the DI website.
DI is a nonprofit that helps kids discover their creativity with challenge-based programming that incorporates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the arts and service learning. The program is open to students of all ages and teams can choose challenges in various categories.
Each of the Awesome Assemblers chose the technical category because they thought the tasks would be more challenging.
“Because it sounded cool and it was the hardest out of all of them,” said Patrick (above) about why he chose the technical category.
The challenge is split into two tasks. First, students must build cars that are able to travel a pre-determined distance without human interference or the help of a remote control. The second task is to write and perform a skit to go with the car challenge. The car demonstration and skit will be performed simultaneously before judges. In addition, teams will be given on-the-spot challenges to perform in just a few minutes.
Sid said the on-the-spot challenges have been his favorite part of DI because they have to think on their toes to perform them.
Ayan’s father, Deepak Kumar, is one of two Awesome Assemblers coaches and said DI teaches kids about collaborating, teamwork, leadership, problem solving and more — all the while encouraging them to be creative.
“They can think outside of the box,” he said.
As a coach, Kumar is not allowed to interfere with the team’s work, which he said is the hardest part of his job.
“We have to watch them fail,” he said.
Instead, he asks them probing questions to help them think through everything.
Jingyu Yang, the team’s second coach, agreed that the “no interference” rule can be difficult, but said it is really rewarding when the boys figure something out and it clicks for them.
At 14, the Interlake High School freshman has participated in DI since fifth grade — spending three years as a competitor and two years as a coach. While she has been involved in the program for five years, this will be her first year going to the Global Finals.
“I’m really, really proud of them,” she said about the Awesome Assemblers’ success.
While everyone is excited for the upcoming competition in Knoxville, the trip is estimated to cost almost $12,000. To help cover the expenses, the Awesome Assemblers have created a website where people can donate money to sponsor their team. For more information, visit awesomeassemblers.com.