How far can imagination take you? For three Windsor Knolls Middle School (WKMS) seventh graders, the answer is to Globals and back.
Duncan Ways, Nicole Simmons and Skylar Robisch—the WKMS Destination Imagination (DI) Team Woah!—took third place at the Destination Imagination Global Finals, held May 22 to 25 in Kansas City, Missouri.
This followed their propelling first-place win at the March 30 Destination Imagination Maryland State Tournament.
While Team Woah! has imagination and positivity to spare—demonstrated by the deliberate misspelling of their team name to turn the downbeat “whoa” into an upbeat “woah”—Duncan, Nicole and Skylar built their success equally on hard work and team spirit. Beginning in October 2018, the team worked with team managers Ron Robisch and Andrea Morley for two hours each week, and they studied together during three lunch periods every week in the WKMS media center.
Destination Imagination is an educational nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of creative problem solvers. Teams choose a project-based challenge and work toward competition all year. Through this project-based challenge and an instant challenge given to teams at competitions, students develop skills they’ll need for success in a quickly evolving world.
Duncan, Nicole and Skylar chose the most difficult challenge—improv. According to the DI website, the improvisational challenge encourages students to “think fast and have some laughs” but draws heavily on their knowledge of comedic and tragic genres and historical figures found on coins from around the world. Team Woah! selected eight historical figures to study from a list of 20. “We chose those with a strong personality, some with accents,” Nicole explained; they selected figures who resonated with them.
Duncan, who began with DI in third grade at Green Valley Elementary, said that he has competed with DI Fine Arts and Scientific challenges. When he first took the improv challenge in sixth grade, “I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is entirely different.’” Instead of building something or preparing a performance, improv challenge team members need to rely on each other and their strong knowledge base in the moment of competition—and be very good at reading each other’s cues.
Duncan, Nicole and Skylar discovered that improv suited them. “I prefer improv over the other ones because the kids have to use something right there, right then. They have to think from their own minds,” Duncan said.
“Improv is the one where you’ve got to do it the most,” Skylar said. For other challenges you can prepare your project or performance, but “for improv you don’t know what you’re doing (going into the competition), you don’t know what you’re saying … sometimes, you’re just a table and sometimes you’re a different (figurehead).”
After their improv challenge was revealed at Globals—feature figureheads Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci directing a play and begin as a tragedy—Team Woah! was given two minutes to brainstorm. Fortunately, Duncan is an expert on Victor Hugo with Nicole just as prepared to play Leonardo da Vinci.
The three decided that Hugo would direct “Les Miserables” along with Leonardo da Vinci, who was in charge of sets, and the tragedy? Play preparations are not going well. Skylar took on the role of student. The three quickly settled on tragic opera as their genre and sang most of their lines.
All of that sounds challenging enough. But midway through there is a “flip.” Performers flip over a piece of paper on the floor to reveal a new element and genre. Team Woah! suddenly needed to incorporate “a very stinky sponge” and comedy—and improv from this point on becomes non-verbal. Duncan, Nicole and Skylar quickly moved into high slapstick gear, used the offending sponge as a prop in their play and managed to dispose of it.
Approximately 1200 teams competed at the 2019 DI Global Finals, and 17,000 people attended. Teams came from around the country and the world, including China, Turkey, Poland and Guatemala. Duncan especially liked “the interaction with different people and cultures, the diversity—that was pretty cool.”
In addition to attending other teams’ competitions, DI kids trade beautiful pins. The team spent at least six hours trading pins, Ron Robisch said.
“The best part was pin trading,” Nicole said. “That’s how we met other kids.”
The three hope that DI grows next year at Windsor Knolls Middle, and they’re very thankful for the support the community has given them.
The team registration fee alone was $5,500, and “the community really stepped up,” said Jim Ways, Duncan’s father. The team held restaurant fundraisers, launched a GoFundMe page, and received a big contribution from the WKMS PTSA—all making the close to $10,000 trip and competition possible.