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May 10, 2019 12:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School Team Makes It To World Finals For Animal Adoption Project

Some of the students in the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School's Odyssey Angels team with both puppy playground sets that they made for Bideawee in Westhampton. COURTESY LAUREEN ANDRIA
May 14, 2019 1:17 PM

Students in the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School’s Odyssey Angels team were challenged to do one thing: find a creative solution to an often overlooked problem in their community.They were given the task by Odyssey of the Mind, an international student competition program that encourages creative problem solving.

For their project idea, the Remsenburg-Speonk team decided to focus on the problem that not enough people adopt animals from local adoption shelters, according to Laureen Andria, their coach and a teacher at the school.

So they made “upcycled” puppy playground sets and cat toys for Bideawee, a pet adoption center and veterinary clinic in Westhampton, in the hope that more animals would get adopted—and would be happier during their time waiting.

“Adaptable, adoptable and happy” was the students’ goal for the pets at the shelter, as they mentioned in a video they made for the competition.

Their innovative idea and successful donations won first place out of all Odyssey Angels teams in the Odyssey of the Mind competition. They will be traveling to Michigan later this month to present their idea at the weekend-long World Finals, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Eleven-year-old Abby Bigora, a fifth-grader, said she was excited about the trip. Her family adopted their dog, Piper, from the Bideawee center last year. “I like helping Bideawee, and I like dogs and cats,” Abby said, adding that the playground sets have been helping puppies get used to their newfound senses.

To be considered in the competition, students had to create a two-minute video and submit it, along with the video’s transcript, to Odyssey of the Mind. Four students shot and assembled the video, including Brady Schultz, an 11-year-old in fifth grade.

“I’m really excited,” he said of the upcoming trip to the World Finals. “I hope that we get more dogs adopted after we do this.”

The organization notified Ms. Andria in mid-April that they were selected as the only Angels team to present at the World Finals on May 22 to 25 and, perhaps more excitingly, lead the Olympic-style opening ceremony. Teams from across the country, and around the globe, will parade behind Remsenburg-Speonk students to kick off a weekend of events at Michigan State University.

“I’m just so grateful and blown away by it,” said Ms. Andria, who holds several positions at the school, including library media specialist. “They put in the effort. They were mindful of, ‘Well, this is the goal, where we want to go.’ And they were creative in their thinking on how to get there. And then the rest of it’s up to the judges.”

The Odyssey of the Mind program consists of two types of teams: the regular Odyssey of the Mind teams, which must solve specific and complex problems provided by the organization; and Odyssey Angels, which solve community service problems in a more relaxed setting, similar to how volunteer work is conducted.

On Monday, the approximately 15 students that make up the Odyssey Angels team took a trip to Bideawee after school and played with Isla, a puppy currently up for adoption, while she enjoyed one of the playground sets. She chewed on some recycled items and jumped on children’s laps as they sat in a circle on the floor.

Some of the team members who had visited Bideawee in the past said that some of the animals looked sad because their living quarters were not decorated enough—any decorations would get chewed up—so they agreed that a sensory play set was sustainable enough for the animals to enjoy.

Students in the team, which welcomes those in any grade level at the school, built two playground sets out of materials primarily found around their homes that would otherwise get thrown out. They brought in cups, garage door springs, deflated tennis balls, shells from the beach and other items to attach to rope and hang from a cube-shaped structure made of PVC pipes.

Some parents offered to use their tools to assemble the frame, turning the task into a lesson for the children on how to use saws, drills and miter boxes in a safe way. The team spent their Monday morning meetings at school to construct the sets.

The playground sets were completed and donated to Bideawee earlier this year and the puppies have been enjoying them ever since—so much so that some of the hanging pieces are beginning to fall off.

And they accomplished their goal of improving adoption rates. Christopher Muller, the volunteer manager at Bideawee in Westhampton, said that the sets are helping puppies become more playful and socialized, making them easier to be adopted.

Mr. Muller said he is grateful for their generosity, pointing out that Remsenburg-Speonk is one of the biggest school supporters for the center. Last year’s Odyssey Angels team raised over $1,000 for Bideawee and the school holds continuous drives for additional donations, including a spare change drive and a Linens and Leashes drive, in which people can donate, as stated in the name, extra linens and leashes, because the center runs through its supplies often.

“What’s amazing to me is it truly is a student-driven competition. The parents can show them how to do things, but they can’t do it for them—and that’s a really important part of it,” Ms. Andria said.

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Great job!!
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on May 13, 19 9:30 AM