A Destination for the Imagination

Heather Holly, Staff Writer

Regional tournament day is here. Teams of bright-eyed children arrive to the tournament site awaiting for the exciting day ahead of them.

They prepare for the exciting day ahead. They complete their instant challenge, they take their goofy team picture, and feel nervous before they share their central challenge solutions to their friends and family.

All around the tournament, adults in crazy hats try to win the hearts of the kids so they can take home the trophy in the famous hat contest.

These teams all prepare for months with one common goal: make it all the way to Knoxville, Tennessee, to compete with others from around the globe. From September through May, these kids work hours on end, sometimes 7 days a week, trying to impress the appraisers.

Destination Imagination is a global non-profit organization that teaches its participants skills that are transferable to life. Some would say it’s the most important extracurricular they have ever participated in.

According to the Destination Imagination website, the program develops kids life skills such as leadership and project-based learning. It also teaches kids about STEM and blends in the arts and social entrepreneurship.

Tournament day requires teams to not only present their central challenge, but also participate in an instant challenge, where they are put on the spot. These instant challenges could be engineering based, improved based, or both.

Teams walk into instant challenges blind. They know nothing about the challenge they receive, and receive scores for their teamwork, creativity and

The central challenge is chosen from five potential options. Teams often choose the one that plays to their strengths, such as fine arts, science, engineering, or even community service.

These teams will have under 8 minutes to present their solutions, and can spend as much as $100 dollars on materials for their team created props and costumes. Items used to create props range from PVC to cut up juice pouches, and the DI staple, lots and lots of duct tape.

School psychiatrist Kristen Gleason has managed her son’s DI team since he was in third grade, and has been to global finals twice. She is a strong believer in kids participation in the program.

DI allows kids of all strengths and abilities to work together to solve a challenge that requires collaboration, communication, creativity and outside the box thinking,” Gleason said. “It is the only program in the world that is completely kid driven and does not allow, at any step in the process, adult help or interference to create, solve or execute the challenge”  

Sophomore Aaron Arakelian said that Destination Imagination has helped him gain “a lot of creativity skills, teamwork, thinking outside the box, and just how to come together in the hard times to create a solution.”

Senior Erin Webb has been involved in the program since third grade. She has been a team member for 10 years and has also managed an elementary school team.

“I think it’s a really good way to let the creative side of me flourish, and I’m also friends with everyone I have done it with since I was really little,” Webb said. “It’s just a fun way where you don’t have to worry about school or like grading on it, and it’s just a way to do academic and scientific things without the pressure of grades.”

These Destination Imagination teams are of seven or fewer kids, all of similar ages, but all with very different skill sets. They all must come together to form one common, team-created solution.

According to a study done by Dr. Marc A. Runco, students participating in DI were found to be more inquisitive, better at collaborating, more self confident and tenacious, and more creative. All of these skills are linked to greater success in the real world.

Students also self-reported that their performance in school had increased dramatically because of their participation in Destination Imagination.

“My creative thinking skills improved a lot through my involvement in this program.” Webb said, “just being creative in general and looking at materials and how I can use it in a way that’s a little unconventional has helped me a lot both in school with problem solving and like science and math classes. It has also helped me outside of school when trying to solve other problems that don’t have to do with DI, even problems that don’t have to do with materials, just creative thinking.”

Webb said that more people need to get involved in the program.

“I think it’s something everyone should have an opportunity to do,” she said. “You see a lot more elementary and middle school kids doing it now, but I think especially sticking through it all the way through senior year is really important because you get to stay connected with all the people you’ve done it with and you can watch yourself and the people around you grow and improve.”

Webb, also a team manager for 2 years gets to see the program from two perspectives, giving her a unique view. She manages another Hopkinton team of girls from the class of 2024.

“I think also as a team manager now, seeing the third graders, seeing how they change over the course of a couple months- it is insane seeing it from this perspective.” Webb said, “if only a few months can change you this drastically, imagine how much you can change over 10 years.”

Senior Riley Strickland, Webb’s teammate, has been involved in DI since she was in seventh grade, and has also spent a year as a team manager. She said that she would not be the person she is today without this program.

“I’ve also really learned how to branch out,” Strickland said. “If it were not for this program, I don’t think I would know how to stick up for myself and really give my opinion.”

Destination Imagination teaches life skills that most are not able to develop until they reach the real world, where it is often too late. Involvement in this program puts kids one step ahead of their peers.

More than 1400 teams from around the world arrive at University of Tennessee during Memorial Day weekend for a week of excitement. They proved they were the best in their state or country, but now it is time to prove they are the best in the world.

The week is filled with excitement. There are engineering challenges, pin trading, and the ability to interact with their peers from other countries.

Sophomore Patrick Webb, who has participated in DI for 8 years said “My proudest DI moment was probably states in 7th grade, we won first place at states, and then went to Knoxville, Tennessee, for Global Finals and where we came in ninth.”