MLK Elementary students advance to Odyssey of the Mind world finals

Carter Williams, from left, Annika Jeena, Aksh Doshi, Jay Chavan, Riya Lakhihal, Pranavi Ganti, coach Ruth Vogel and Chaitanya Palasamudram will represent Edison's Martin Luther King Elementary School during the Odyssey of the Mind world finals in May.

EDISON – Two teams, comprised of seven students each from a North Edison elementary school, have reached the world finals of the famed Odyssey of the Mind (OM), a creative problem-solving program.

The Edison Board of Education passed a unanimous resolution on April 15 congratulating the 14 students from the Martin Luther King Elementary School, a nationally-recognized Blue Ribbon institution, and wished the students well at the OM world finals to be held over four days starting May 22, according to information provided by Prashanth Lakhihal.

Ruth Vogel and Kim Jackson, both MLK teachers who also volunteer as OM coaches, will accompany the youngsters to Michigan State University next month.

The third through fifth grade students of the two teams are Annika Jeena, Aksh Doshi, Carter Williams, Chaitanya Palasamudram, Jay Chavan, Pranavi Ganti, Riya Lakhihal, Charlotte Dressel, Nitya Puli, Caleb Foo, Kaveesh Singh, Avika Shukla, Riti Sarje and Pranav Srinivasan, all residents of Edison.

“Our MLK Elementary School kids worked really hard and came together really well to solve a predefined long-term problem and elegantly presented their solutions,” said Jackson, referring to the New Jersey state finals held at Ewing High School on April 6, according to the statement.

The two-part competition includes a predefined long-term problem and a spontaneous portion by generating solutions to a problem the children have not seen before. While the long-term problem solution often takes many months to complete and involves various elements of theatrical performance, construction and design, the spontaneous portion occurs the day of the competition, according to the statement.

Aksh, Carter, Chai, Jay, Pranavi and Riya spent most of the school year working on an eight-minute routine on the Opposites Distract problem. They wrote a humorous script and built props and colorful costumes by creatively using recycled materials developed without adult assistance, according to the statement.

“There are two different groups each with their own leader. There is a sneaky character who tries to break up the group. Throughout the skit, the sneaky character succeeds twice and fails the last attempt before others realize that they were being manipulated,” Vogel said in the statement.

OM teaches the value of team work, communication and highlights that the “most commonly used way is not necessarily the most creative way to solve problems,” according to Jackson, whose team worked on another long-term problem, Structure Toss.

During their presentation on Structure Toss, the team of Charlotte, Caleb, Nitya, Kaveesh, Avika, Riti and Pranav tossed their 15-gram, 8-inch structure and tested for strength.

“The structure held up well to carry 730 pounds before it crushed under the weight,” Jackson said in the statement, referring to the device made of light balsa wood and held up by only glue.