My school has a club for just about everybody. They have theater for the talented kids. They have tec for the more hands-on kids. They have sports for the athletic ones, and math league for the smart ones. But what about the kids that fall between the lines? For that, we have DI. I’ve always been one of those kids. Creative but shy, smart but also athletic. In DI we get to put all of our talents on display. There is a use for every talent any one ever had. In DI, I can be on stage with my team but also build the stage I’m standing on. I can be proud of my technical creating but also love the costume I’m wearing. I can be the nerd and the engineer. And man, the nerves on competition day definitely pays off when your team comes up for a medal. This is my 9th year in DI and I’m a freshman. Why did I keep it up? Because everyone can feel proud and accomplished. Everyone can find something they love. And everyone has so much fun. How could I not do DI?
Destination Imagination has been part of our family for almost a decade. From little kindergarten rising stars to resilient and independent middle schoolers, I have seen teams of children grow and thrive in this creative, unique, collaborative environment. They learn to work together and compromise, to push their limits, to take risks, to respect opinions that are not their own, and to believe in themselves and their abilities. In instant challenge, they learn to work under pressure to create a solution to a complicated problem in a limited amount of time using science, engineering, theater and math skills. And, most important, they learn that they can do it on their own. As a volunteer team manager, I am amazed every season at the opportunities DI gives my team members. They learn public speaking, how to dissect a complicated task into manageable parts, how to build a tower or bridge out of pretty much any materials you give them, how to write and edit a script, how to create costumes and set designs, and that thinking outside of the box, and even being outside of that box, is not only okay, but it’s even pretty cool.
DI has given my middle schoolers a place where they belong, where they are each so proud to be their own unique person and where they are comfortable taking creative risks. Sometimes these risks work for them and sometimes they don’t. There are valuable lessons in both of those scenarios. The program is also great for parents, as it gives them an opportunity to step back and see what their kids are truly capable of on their own. Teachers have told me that they love the program for that reason – that they have seen parents of DI kids be more willing to let that book report, or science project be completed with no parent “interference.” The opportunity to travel to global finals has also given my teams the chance to meet kids from all over the world and gain a global perspective of our community. They are still in touch with several friends that they met from Poland, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, the UK and Brazil.
One of my children participated in DI for 4 years, the other has participated for the past 8 years. I have been a team manager, a team parent, a volunteer appraiser and a school coordinator. I stay involved with this program because I see first-hand the valuable lessons it teaches these kids. It is my hope that as many kids as possible can have the opportunity to participate in DI.
“Hope when you take that jump
You don’t feel the fall
Hope when the water rises
You built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out
It’s screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay”
Whenever this song starts to play on my radio I sing along a little louder and smile a little more because it reminds me of my Destination Imagination experience. DI is where I learned to, “take that jump,” how resilient I can be if I “feel the fall,” and the overwhelming pride in creating something that causes the crowd to, “scream your name.” As a student, I was a perfectionist. I worried about what I needed to do to please my teachers and get a good grade. I was quiet and shy and focused on doing what was right. Learning was about working alone, completing tasks, passing tests, and moving on.
When I joined DI in the 6th grade a new world and vision of learning opened up for me. I became enamored and inspired by learning. DI challenged me to look at problems upside down, sideways and inside out. The people in my history textbook waltzed off the page to become characters in the skits I was creating in DI. I closely studied the anatomy of animals in biology so that I could find inspiration for the engineering and design of my team’s newest invention. My brain was constantly humming, searching, brainstorming, dreaming. My team taught me about the value of other people’s ideas, interests and dreams. I learned to become more open; to listen, share and learn. My mindset changed. Instead of pursuing perfection, I searched for innovation.
Over the seven years that I participated in DI I grew in so many significant ways. I became confident in my abilities, I developed flexibility in my thinking, and I persevered when my ideas didn’t work the first time. When I was participating in DI I knew that it was fundamentally shaping who I was, what I could do and what I believed about myself.
Looking back, after 7 years as a DI participant, and another 7 years as a volunteer I find the importance of DI in my life to be more and more overwhelming. That passion for learning that I developed in DI led me to become a teacher. I now teach 6th grade and strive to inspire my students to develop and believe in their own creative abilities. The skills that I learned through DI have prepared me to be flexible, to value the power of a team, to embrace hard work and bounce back from difficulties. When I hear calls for more innovation in the classroom, for solutions to problems in our schools, I feel fully equipped and excited to try new things, imagine the seemingly impossible, and search for solutions. Knowing firsthand how valuable these skills are, I often look around at my students and wish that I could give them all the DI experience. I hope that they will all be prepared to, “jump,” to, “fall,” and to rise up with confidence and pride.
In my professional career and on my personal time I have made a study of the qualities common to high functioning teams: Creative problem solving. Good time management and decision making. Being able to build something quickly, and then continuously improve upon it. Being able to extract the very best from individuals, while integrating that work into into the product of a collective. Staying within the boundaries of the rules without feeling artificially confined by them.
Working with Destination Imagination inspires me because I get to see these exact skills under development. It is worth my time to volunteer because I know that the program is instilling all of the characteristics and capabilities that I’d like to see in tomorrow’s high functioning teams and in tomorrow’s leaders.
My DI journey began as a Team Manager for my daughter’s 2nd grade team. Nine years, countless “structures”, and much $$ spent on balsa wood and glue, she retired. Her “retirement” opened the door for me to switch to the organizational side of Destination Imagination, primarily as a volunteer official at local, state and global finals tournaments. For the past decade, I’ve been an appraiser for the structure/engineering challenge; a common objective of which typically involves designing and building a lightweight balsa wood structure (often less than 2 oz.) that supports hundreds of pounds of weight. I admit to getting a real rush from the sudden crack and crash of a stack of weights crushing a structure, but also from the excitement, anxiousness, and pride of teams that load 200 lbs. more weight on their structure than they ever expected.
Being an appraiser has been immensely rewarding, giving me an opportunity to interact with teams from 2nd grade up through the university level, from across the nation and the globe. There is a contagiousness to a team’s enthusiasm and pride as they share stories about what they learned and accomplished, and even about their miscues and false starts as they worked toward their solution and presentation to family, friends, and unfamiliar faces in the audience. They’re often oblivious to the research skills, lessons in team-work, and learning to explore alternative solutions that they’ve gained along the journey. To them, DI is just fun. For me, I’m thrilled that because of DI, I have been able to work with and establish a rapport with so many kids who return year after year, seeking me out to tell me about this year’s solution, how they’ve grown, where they’re going to attend high school, or college, and then to come back as an alum to help continue Colorado DI. Many DI-ers have told me that their DI experience has been a prominent theme in scholarship applications and personal statements for college applications. Helping youth prepare to succeed is certainly worth my time and monetary investments, and your financial support will be leveraged through the predominately volunteer organization to sustain Colorado DI.
When I think of what DI means to me, my mind is cast back to my friend Aidan. When he first entered DI in first grade, Aidan was the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. He didn’t talk much, couldn’t think of any story ideas past what he had read in books, and wanted as small an acting part as he could get in our DI skits. Fast forward to the end of middle school, and you wouldn’t recognize him. Through DI, Aidan had turned into a confident, talkative kid who quickly became everyone’s friend. He delivered many stellar (and hilarious) performances in our DI skits, often as the lead character, playing everyone from James Bond to a scientist to a literal firewall. He thought up totally unique solutions to problems on the spot. To me DI is the growth that Aidan exemplified. It teaches kids skills such as engineering and quick thinking that will serve them well later in life. Take my old teammates for example: Patrick credits his success in the DECA program, which teaches business, to his experience learning DI Instant challenges. Lucas took the engineering skills he learned in DI to his high school robotics team, to great success. Joe learned how to harness his boundless energy into acting. For me, DI taught valuable public speaking skills and revealed a love of story writing, and you’ve already heard about what it did to Aidan.
Aidan’s DI story ended when he entered high school, even though the skills and knowledge he gained will stay with him for the rest of his life. I, on the other hand, am still doing DI – this year is the eleventh year I have competed. In addition to competing, I help out at tournaments, am part of the DI Colorado Teen Advisory Board, and I founded and run the Materials Equity Program for DI Colorado. Every day, I see the impact DI has had on the world in the kids who compete and the adults who devote their time to this wonderful program. DI reveals skills, creativity, and joy in everyone it touches. It is the program that changes lives. I know it has changed mine.