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M.E.H. Girls Advance to Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Iowa

A group of fifth-grade girls from Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church will travel to Ames, Iowa next week to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.912mehgirls

A group of fifth-grade girls from Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church will travel to Ames, Iowa next week to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

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MARY ELLEN HENDERSON M.S. girls pose with their handmade set, holding Phillipe, the French marionette pig, in the center following a rehearsal at Coach Connie Juntenen’s home. Back Row (left to right): Erin McMillen, Annie Washa, Caroline Duffett and Maraena Allen-Lewis. Front Row (left to right): Lillian Soltys, Mary Catherine Donovan and Cami Malm. (Photo: News-Press)

Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international educational program encouraging students of all ages to polish their creative problem-solving skills. Solutions to problems are presented at various levels of OM competitions, including local, state and world.

The seven girls, many of whom have grown up together, recently charmed the audience and judges alike with a marionette pig named Phillipe at the OM State Competition in Newport News, Va. The porky, paper-mache character was at the center of their skit-style solution to this year’s OM problem, “Teach Yer Creature,” which involved “teaching” a mechanical animal character a lesson.

Maraena Allen-Lewis, 10, plays “Cecile,” a fellow piglet in the scenario who shows Phillipe how his long snout can be used for sniffing out truffles on the farm.

Following a laundry list of strict guidelines drawn up by Creative Competitions, Inc., the skit also tells the story of a French pig who learns to be proud of who he is. The girls all agreed that aside from adhering to the rules in order to create a humorous answer to their predicament, a deeper meaning lies beneath the solution’s theme of acceptance.

“I think it sends the message to be yourself, no matter what the difference that sets you apart from those around you,” said 10-year-old team member Mary Catherine Donovan.

Working on a team has also taught them to better communicate with their female counterparts. A safe phrase would be said aloud when things between them got tense. Their team leader, Kathy Washa, said it taught the girls to work out their problems.

“Beforehand, we talked about what it meant to be on a team, but being all girls it’s good to have a phrase they feel safe to say out loud and start fresh with one another,” said Washa, mother of 11-year-old team member Annie Washa.

The girls’ teacher, Pam Wilkie, who’s accompanied students to OM World Finals in previous years, agreed that the competition is all about working together.

“There are opportunities for small groups in school, but OM teaches them to pull each other up by each individual’s strengths,” said Wilkie. “It’s amazing to watch these girls develop their teamwork skills.”

The girls leave for Iowa State University next Wednesday, May 27 to compete against 52 other Division-I teams for the “Teach Yer Creature” problem portion. There are five problems total for competitors to choose from, with divisions ranging from I – IV.

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