Wilmette, Community

Child decisions? It’s all good with Destination Imagination

Program aims to build practical and problem-solving skills in local students

Students from Wilmette District 39 and beyond participated in the annual Destination Imagination competition on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Loyola Academy, putting their creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills to task. 

DI is primarily a parent-driven organization that empowers students to take charge of their own learning. Students spend months forming teams and providing innovative strategies to complex challenges. These challenges are centered on the areas of technology, scientific discovery, fine art, engineering and community service. 

In the months preceding the tournament, groups work with an adult volunteer. The adult guides, but offers limited input, ensuring ideas, problems and solutions are student driven. 

Wilmette mom Emily Paris has been a part of DI for 10 years. She now sits on the State DI Board and oversees a group from New Trier High School and Baker Demonstration School in Evanston. Paris said the important overarching lessons that DI impresses upon both kids and adults. 

“These days kids are so overscheduled and over structured,” she said. “Their teachers tell them what to do at school, their coaches tell them what to do on the field and their parents tell them what to do at home. DI gives kids control and allows them to make their own choices. As a result, kids are more personally invested, build grit and resilience and learn that mistakes are opportunities for growth.”

At the core of DI is the chance to hone the practical skills that are desired in the workforce. Students learn how to lead, delegate, work as a team, resolve conflict and stick to a budget. 

“It’s the closest chance they have to work a white-collar job at this time in their lives,” Paris added. 

One of Paris’ student team members, Faye Okesson of Wilmette, is a freshman at New Trier. Okesson said that DI has benefited her in everyday situations, making her more resilient.

During a recent social studies project mishap, Okesson said she stayed calm and came up with a solution to a project that went awry.

“Without DI, I think I would have given up and opted for an easier path,” she said “Instead, I was able to put my frustrations aside and take what I’ve learned from DI and apply it to the project. In the end, I got the result I wanted but relied on a new creative solution to get me there.”

The self-growth acquired during the months preceding the tournament resulted in a cool, calm, yet excitable scene at the Feb. 24 tournament. The halls buzzed as students waited to present their homemade innovations. One of those teams, “Meta 4,” composed of seventh-grade Baker Demonstration students Emily Berger, Amelia Hedges, Vivian Hackney and Samantha Paris, waited to show the judges their socially conscious project. They combined technology, math, music and storytelling into a project to save sea turtles. As a result, they raised $547 dollars for a nonprofit that protects these creatures. 

Samantha Paris, daughter of Emily Paris, explained how the interest in sea turtles was all their own, noting the importance of having parents essentially butt out of the thought and planning process. 

“When adults interfere, they come up with adult solutions,” Samantha Paris said. “These ideas are our own. We came up with the strategies and solutions and we were successful in fundraising for our cause. This makes the project very meaningful for us.”

Parent guide Kate Schmitt, of Wilmette, echoed those sentiments. Schmitt said that “DI really reminds adults just how capable kids truly are. They can handle more than they are often given credit for. “

Schmitt guides “The Fab 4,” made up of sixth-grade Wilmette Junior High students Violet Wilson, Meana Greenberg, Nora Schmitt and Amanda Morhart. The group has been working together for several years, enjoying the collaboration and camaraderie that comes with innovating. For Wilson the opportunity has helped her embrace her natural born leadership skills.

“I like being the boss and managing the team.” Wilson said. 

Morhart added, “We’ve learned new skills and learned how important it is to work as a team and respect one another’s ideas.” 

Wilmette’s Annie SooHoo has the large task of coordinating all 21 Wilmette teams. As her group, “The End Dees,” consisting of third-graders from Wilmette’s Mckenzie Elementary and Kenilworth’s’ Joseph Sears School, prepared for their chance to wow the judges, she reflected on the life lessons that DI provides for adults too.

“DI has taught me that it’s OK to let kids fail and go through difficult situations,” SooHoo said. “It can be very tempting to want to jump in and fix problems or give your opinion but doing so means we rob the kids of their own ability to problem solve and find a resolution that is meaningful to them.”

End-Dees’ teammate, Ella Wallach, of Kenilworth chimed in: “DI reminds adults that kids can do extraordinary things.”

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Alexa Burnell

Alexa Burnell is a Wilmette resident who has been covering the North Shore for the past seven years, previously for The Wilmette Beacon and its sister newspapers.

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