Windsor High School students receive award at international problem-solving competition

By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Thu., Jun. 13, 2013
Contributed
Operation Courtyard team members Shanai Chambers, Kaitlyn Ali, Jeremy Fredette and Daniel Hammersmith hold their trophy at the 2013 Future Problem Solving Program International Conference on June 9. Their project centered on renovating the school's courtyard, damaged by the nor'easter in October 2012. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Students from Windsor public schools' gifted and talented classes recently reminded the community that an idea to promote change can turn into a plan to implement change. Two student groups from the high school and one individual from the middle school had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) Competition at Indiana University from June 4 through June 9.

“In life, we have good ideas, and it's our responsibility to get people to listen to us,” said Windsor High School seminar teacher Carla Brigandi, as she quoted her mentor, professor Joe Renzulli from UConn.

One of the high school teams, Operation Courtyard, received second place for the senior division of Civic and Cultural Issues Community Problem Solvers (CmPS). The team's project began as part of a seminar class, led by Brigandi, to promote creative thinking. However, a lot of the work for the competitions was done outside of class in their free time.

Operation Courtyard was composed of four students: Kaitlyn Ali, Shanai Chambers, Jeremy Fredette and Daniel Hammersmith. The team chose to renovate the courtyard, which was damaged by the October 2012 nor'easter. The group worked with town officials, teachers, students and the Board of Education as part of the planning process. Renovations are still underway.

“The courtyard is in the center of our school,” said Chambers. “The way it looks right now, it doesn't give a good impression of the school, and we wanted to change that and make students feel proud of their school again.”

The other group from Windsor High School, Words Hurt, focused its project on raising awareness of bullying. The team of five - Michael Harper, Daniel Kastner, Akash Kunver, Juliet Orszalak and Stella Rivera - centered the project around getting a public speaker, John Halligan, to talk about bullying at the school.

Halligan's motto is “Be Upstanders,” and his desire to become proactive about the issue came from experiences with his son, who committed suicide in 2003 after constant bullying. The topic of bullying is also very close to Rivera, and even though the group didn't receive an award, she said she enjoyed spreading awareness to other countries and states, as well as to her local community.

“It happened to me when I was in elementary school and middle school, and no one got what I was going through then,” said Rivera. “So now that people are starting to get it and understand why it's important, it's really powerful to me.”

In order to make it to the state level, the students had to complete a six-page paper, a scrap book, a six-page addendum, a short video, and a tri-board identifying their issue and describing the problem solving process. To move on to the international level, students had to be interviewed by members from FPSPI.

Two students from Sage Park Middle School, Amanda Schwartz and Danielle Gozzo, also made it to the state level in March. The students worked with Shirley Cowles, the language arts challenge resource teacher. Cowles teaches a class focusing on future problem-solving using scenario writing. The class required students to pick one of the FPSPI's four international global issues and develop their own scenario set 25 years into the future.

Schwartz wrote her 1,500-word futuristic scenario on megacities, the growing number of large cities. Gozzo developed a scenario on Ocean Soup, the effect of the large area in the ocean known as Garbage Patch, and was selected to move on to the International Conference. At the conference, Gozzo was required to use her skills to develop a scenario based on this year's theme, global status of women.

“I am proud of all their efforts,” said Cowles of her eight students this year. “It was nice to have someone recognized at the state level and international.”

The conference welcomed 2,000 students from 13 different countries representing problem-solving students in elementary through high school grades from traditional schools and home schools. “I talked to kids from New Zealand, Australia and other states, and they were all really cool and interesting,” said Fredette. “It made Connecticut seem kind of boring.”

The host, Indiana Future Problem Solvers, had a fair displaying the approximately 50 other CmPS projects. “It was really inspiring, because you don't always see kids changing so much,” said Chambers. “These kids are really making a difference. It gave me the feeling like I can do anything now.”

Orszalak described a project that came from an elementary school in Kentucky, where they created a day in which students across the state say something nice about someone. The school then hangs the positive comments up around the school.

Another activity was the memento exchange where students exchanged their native items with each other, state-to-state and internationally. “Not a lot of people can say they have a purse from Korea or a hat from Great Britain,” said Ali.

There was also a variety show where Operation Courtyard members joined with students from Wisconsin, Colorado and New Zealand to perform "Gagnum Style." Ali and Chambers also participated in the "Cup Song" performance and Rivera sang in the FPSPI Choir.

“It kind of made you feel less alone,” said Rivera in reference to the conference. “Like you weren't the only people trying to make a change.”


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