Learning a lifetime of skills at OM and DestinationImagination [Letter]

I was happy to see that Bond Mill Elementary has advanced to the state finals of DestinationImagination, according to Sarah Toth's article in your edition of March 21.  Bond Mill was a worthy competitor when our kids were in Odyssey of the Mind (OM), a similar program, and I see that that school is still at it.

Our family was heavily involved in OM for a dozen years in the '80s and '90s.  For months each year our house was littered with art materials, tools and balsa wood.  Our teams were fortunate to get to the World Competition three times, representing Glenarden Woods Elementary, Kenmoore Middle and Eleanor Roosevelt High.


Our kids, now in their 30s, will tell you, and I agree, that OM was one of the formative experiences of their young lives, far more than Girl Scouts or most of what school or church could offer. Erin started talking at age 14 about becoming an architect, having had so much experience preparing backdrops and designing and building stage props, and she now travels the world as an architect in her own right. When April was at Georgetown but living off-campus, she would mildly fume that "these girls can't do anything!  They can't put together furniture, fix a hinge, unstick a window, even change a light bulb!" so she took on all their household maintenance and engineering tasks.  (It escaped no one's notice that she was the only one in that suite from unfashionable Prince George's County.)

Yes, as Ms. Toth writes, OM/DestinationImagination teaches "creative thinking, teamwork, communication skills, artist and technical skills," all that jazz, but there were some additional lasting effects they don't really mention in the leader packets:


The kids learn what deadlines mean.  Their presentation must be ready to go by the morning of a Saturday in March.  If it isn't, even if they are not at fault, there is no appeal, no do-over, no hope — it's wait until next year, kids. There is great value there — someday a judge or a client will be unimpressed that a new grad is unprepared because he forgot, was hung over or needed some uninterrupted kayaking time.

The kids devise competition tactics that were not in any OM manual I ever saw.  Our teams found out, usually the hard way, that a dialogue-heavy performance will be hard to understand in a noisy gymnasium; that a missing power cord or costume can doom the whole thing, so due diligence in packing to go to the competition site is essential; and that performance time-management is critical —there are only a few minutes to make the presentation, including setting the stage.

The kids learn to absorb defeat usefully. It is a commonplace and not very realistic exhortation of our time to "never give up." Well, life isn't like that, and neither is OM. Every team in the world but one eventually hits the wall, and the morning after the last tournament can be very hard, even for coaches.  There were usually brief hot tears of disappointment, which were quickly brushed away and replaced by a determination to get an earlier start and work harder the next year.

I believe that the DestinationImagination program is not limited to schools. Churches, scout troops and other organizations that have kids aged 7 to 18 can participate. It is a ton of work, for the kids, their parents and their coaches, but the benefits can last a lifetime.

Elden Carnahan