Real-World Experiences for Student Success

January 15, 2015 at 10:40 am


Emily McGann

Creative thinking
Parents who send their kids to a private school in Romeoville, Illinois, work hard to help them succeed. And its instructors and administrators go above and beyond, volunteering time, energy, and resources to give their students unique opportunities.

Seventh-grade math teacher and Amway Independent Business Owner Emily McGann sees enormous potential in her students’ futures thanks in part to Odyssey of the MindTM. The extracurricular program builds kids’ ingenuity through diverse challenges and friendly competition.

“Odyssey of the Mind stretches students to think creatively and apply themselves to real-life situations,” says Emily. “Even students who struggle with applying textbook knowledge in the classroom can succeed when applying the same lessons to the real world.”

Problem solving skills
Each year, Emily coaches and prepares her students for the competition. The kids are divided into four teams, and each is given a spontaneous, on-the-spot problem to solve. Students need to be prepared for anything: problems range from environmental protection issues like pollution and recycling, to building a structure strong enough to hold the most weight with limited materials, to putting on a performance that references classic literature or current events.

Emily’s role is to facilitate as her students approach these brain twisters. “I’m there to help kids reason through teamwork challenges, offer perspective, ask questions, and help with their critical thinking skills,” she says.

For each project, students apply core content area knowledge – and Emily says the benefits go beyond the event, the classroom, or even the school. “Students learn valuable leadership skills,” she says. “They learn to take ownership, they learn social skills, and how to play to their strengths and work together.”

Helping students shine
Emily loves to see students with different personalities thrive through Odyssey of the Mind. “Some of the more introverted students really shine with their talents, whether that’s using a power drill for building or using wordplay to write scripts,” she says. “It helps their self-esteem, and you can see their confidence grow.”

This year, Emily’s students excelled at regionals and made it to the 2014 World Finals. But participation costs came to $17,000 for registration, room and board, and transportation. Through diligent fundraising – and by approaching the challenge with the same problem-solving skills they’ve learned through the program – Emily and her students made it to the competition, a major source of pride for the school and community.

“I’m just excited to help the school and these students,” says Emily. “There are a lot of great things going on.”

Emily also understands the lasting value this program has. “Teaching and working with these kids can benefit them in the long-term,” she says. “They can be productive citizens and leaders. Helping children and families now passes on the American dream for the future.”

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