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The Smarties are getting ready for the Destination Imagination Global Competition. Front row: Charlotte Molitor(9), Danielle Leuenberger(9), Kate Molitor(6), River Miller(8); Back row: Lillian Molitor(11), Janelle Blackburn(Team Manager), Jessica Miller(Team Assistant Manager)

The “Smarties” Outsmart regional and state competitors and head to the Global Competition

Five homeschooled girls from Chaffee County have won first place in the Destination Imaginations Regional Competition in Colorado, and they won again in the State Tournament in Pueblo in March, for the Elementary (K through 5) Fine Arts Challenge. They also won special achievement awards at both tournaments. Now they are getting ready for the Global competition in Kansas City coming up in May.

Five Chaffee County girls who named their team “The Smarties” are set to go to the global competition of Destination Imagination: from left to right: River Miller(8), Charlotte Molitor(9), Lillian Molitor(11), Kate Molitor(6), Danielle Leuenberger(9). Courtesy photo.

“The Smarties are presently engaged in fine-tuning their performance and problem-solving skills and are deeply engaged in fundraising in preparation for their travel to Globals,” said Bryan Luenberger parent of team member Danielle Luenberger.

The five girls called themselves “The Smarties. The team consists of:

Danielle –Leuenberger – 9, third grade

River Miller — 9, third grade

Charlotte Molitor  — 9, third grade

Kate Molitor — 6, first grade

Lilian Molitor — 11, fifth grade

Destination Imagination is a “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) competition for school children. Students form teams and each team is presented with a multi-faceted problem. Over the course of five months, they have to solve the problem using STEAM concepts. Creativity counts.

Once they have their solution, they have to create a performance to present their solution. That presentation is made to a panel of judges at each level of competition; local, state, and global level tournaments.

The Smarties developed a solution under the category of the arts, and this year the Destination Imagination directive was to “Flip the Script.” Their solution focused on the theme of the retelling of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but from the viewpoint of the Oompa Loompa character.  This has been a months-long project; the team began working on their solution last October.

They used paper engineering skills to produce realistic 3-D scenery — creating a life-sized pop-up book of the story of Charlie’s chocolate factory. The characters include a stilt-walking Oompa Loompa, a working conveyor belt, and some hilarious idioms. The five girls wrote the script, and created song and dance numbers as well as gorgeous embroidered costumes.

Their solution, their presentation, and their defense of their solution impressed the judges at every level. They competed in March and won the regionals, then they competed at the state competition on April 1 in Pueblo and won a first-place finish. Now they head to the Global Finals on May 20 23 to compete against teams from all over the world.

According to their site, the global finals are the culminating tournament for each season of Destination Imagination’s Challenge Experience, with the top teams from around the world competing in their respective Team Challenges.

The kids have a team manager who can coach or advise — say, suggest a direction to research —  but one of the cool things is this has to be all on their own; the kids aren’t allowed to have any outside help, so no helicoptering parents. They work within in a $250 total budget.

“The kids have spent a lot of time at Newbies searching for items for costumes and props,” said Leuenberger. “All these kids know each other through a home school group that Team Manager Janelle Blackburn puts together.”

Smarties Video

Suffice to say, a team that can go all the way to the global competition is — well, a pretty big deal. Destination Imagination competition is broken down not just by category types, but by age groups; The Smarties are competing at the elementary school level, but there are middle school and high school levels too. The girls created props that change scenes… they go from appearing as one thing in Act I, to something completely different in Act II.

Another challenging aspect of competition: the girls had to incorporate idioms into their performance. (For those who may not know, an idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. A few examples: “It’s raining cats and dogs”, or, “he saw the light”).

The competition scoring has two parts: 70 percent of the score is the team competition which they spend months preparing. But 30 percent of the score is an “instant challenge”. The kids are presented with a problem, and sometimes a box of things to solve that problem. “They don’t know what the problem is, it’s an instant challenge that might create the need for improvisational acting, or building a structure. The box might contain a box of straws, paper clips, and a grapefruit, and the challenge might be to build an 18-inch tall tower that supports a grapefruit for 30 seconds,” explained Bryan Leuenberger. “The instant challenge is under a set of time constraints. It’s tight.”

The five girls have also been awarded two special awards. They competed in and won the elementary school fine arts category, and them were awarded “the Spirit of DI” for their work during the instant challenge. The DI judges (called appraisers) said they were impressed with them and their ability to work together as a team.

At the state competition, The Smarties were awarded the “Renaissance Award,” for exceptional creativity and execution of the key element.

In addition to refining their performance, and working on their problem-solving skills, the girls are engaged in fundraising for their  May 20-23 trip to Kansas City. The entry fee is $5,500, and their goal is roughly $7,000 to cover the entry and pay for their travel and hotel rooms.

Needless to say — they are excited — not just to compete — but to meet their fellow competitors from all over the world.

For those who want to contribute, donations under $250 can be made to their GoFundMe  account. For those looking to become a corporate sponsor of the team, contact Bryan Luenberger at 512-619-8297.