Pelham team shows ingenuity on way to Destination ImagiNation finals

Courtesy Photo
At the Southeastern Regionals in Kingston, H.H., coaches Al Letendre and Kara Fullerton pose with team members, from left, kneeling: Madisyn Fullerton, Andrew Letendre, Michael Anderson and Angelee Ganno. Standing is Katilyn Fullerton.

PELHAM — When a reporter asked Pelham Elementary School student Michael Anderson last week what was the farthest that he has ever traveled, the 11-year-old thought just a moment before answering, “Massachusetts.”

Next month Michael and his four “Mystery of Toys” teammates will travel to a much more distant locale, a destination to which their collective imaginations have carried them — to the Destination ImagiNation Global Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., May 21-24.

“We’re very proud of all our Destination ImagiNation teams that competed in the New Hampshire regional and state competitions this year, especially Mystery of Toys,” said Alicia LaFrance, Pelham Elementary School principal. “It’s a first for Pelham. They’re the first team ever from our town to be invited to the DI Global Tournament.”

In addition to Michael Anderson, the Pelham Elementary School Mystery of Toys team is comprised of Andrew Letendre, fraternal twin sisters Madisyn and Kaitlyn Fullerton, all fifth-graders, and third-grader Angelee Ganno. The team’s three adult coaches/coordinators are Amy Chartrain, Kara Fullerton, the twins’ mom, and Al Letendre, Andrew’s dad.

In order to qualify for the tournament, the Mystery of Toys crew first had to impress the judges at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston on March 15 in the Southeast New Hampshire regional competition against about 80 other schools. There the Mystery of Toys performed a brief, costumed play, involving a puppeteer, played by Michael, who turns two of his puppets, played by Madisyn and Kaitlyn, into real people. Once they come to life, the sisters dance together. The successful skit advanced the team to the state competition held in Nashua on March 29. Although the state contest was won by Jaffrey Grade School, the Pelham Elementary kids placed second, ahead of Main Dunstable Elementary School of Nashua, and other elementary schools from Atkinson, Milford, Nashua, Londonderry and Merrimack.

By rule, the top two teams in each state are invited to compete in the Destination ImagiNation Global Tournament. Billed as “the largest celebration of creativity, teamwork and problem-solving on the planet,” The DI Global Tournament draws 800 school teams from almost every state and 20 countries.

While they celebrated their Mystery of Toys accomplishment, the Pelham school community also quickly recognized the uniquely pressing fundraising challenge the tournament presents. Not only, as coach Amy Chartrain estimated, will the group trip to Knoxville cost the kids and chaperones about $11,000, but they have only about a month in which to raise it.

In keeping with the problem-solving nature of Destination ImagiNation, the team and its coordinators quickly came up with a slew of fundraising activities. These include “Movie Night at Chunky’s,” with Chunky’s management in Pelham pledging to let Mystery of Toys keep the proceeds of each Chunky’s admission ticket team members sell for May 7. Also “An evening of Nashua Pride baseball and fireworks,” for the Pride’s June 14 game against Quebec, with Mystery of Toys getting to keep about half the proceeds from each $7 reserved or $8 box seat they sell for that game.

Also, as of last week, there were bake sales and other fundraisers in the works. According to LaFrance, she trusts in the school’s pride and the generosity of the town’s residents and businesses to see to it that the Mystery of Toys team does not fall short of its goal.

Anyone with a fundraising idea, or who would like to make a donation toward the team’s trip to the DI Global Tournament in Tennessee, is urged to contact Principal Alicia LaFrance during school hours, Monday to Friday, at 603-635-8875. The school’s mailing address is: 61 Marsh Road, Pelham, NH, 03076.

Founded in 1999 by a group of volunteers from the Odyssey of the Mind program, and headquartered in New Jersey, Destination ImagiNation is designed for children from elementary-school age to college age. Participants are required to form teams of five to seven members to compete in various challenges that require complex thinking, problem-solving, creativity and teamwork.

The DI judges at the regional contest in Kingston, N.H., on March 15 were so impressed by the Mystery of Toys team’s response to their Instant Challenge — to design a stage backdrop using PVC pipe and toilet plungers — that they later awarded the Pelham kids the “Renaissance Award for Outstanding Design, Engineering, Execution and Performance.”