By Mary Heyl

Last week from May 20-23, Ellicottville Central School students proudly represented their school at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University.

Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international educational program for teams of elementary through college students who solve problems using creative thinking, brainstorming, teamwork and problem solving skills. The program is designed to teach the concept that “a group is a more powerful thinking force than an individual.”

Indeed, this very powerful group of Division I fourth and fifth grade students (all age 10) led by ECS teacher Leah Klahn, participated with more than 850 teams from around the world in the final stage of the Odyssey of the Mind competition.

Klahn’s team’s journey began at the start of the school year, when they chose OM’s Problem 5 which challenged the team to create a performance depicting a director character that produces and presents a silent movie.

Team members Mandy Hurlburt, Matthew Ives, Katie Krotz, Daniel Pfeffer, Christian Swalcy, Alysa Williams and Elsa Woodarek solved the problem using skills and techniques ranging from the mechanical to the theatrical over the course of the school year.

The performance featured a villain character (a rather comedic villain) that committed three humorous acts of “villainy.” In classic early cinema style, the team’s performance allowed no speaking parts, but instead used music to convey suspense, emotion and action. In addition to creating the performance, the team was responsible for working within an allotted $125.00 budget.

At the regional OM competition at Randolph Central School in March, their successful and entertaining production earned them a spot at the state competition at SUNY Binghamton on April 11. At the state competition, the team placed second out of 18 schools in their division,  earning them the opportunity to compete at the World Finals.

This is the third time in the last 10 years that ECS has sent a team to finals.

Klahn’s team made their school proud, especially OM coordinator and elementary teacher Colleen Bower, who coordinates the ECS OM program and traveled to the World Finals with ECS students before and joined them last week.

In her first year as an OM coach, Klahn was excited to share this feat with her students, who were supported by their school, community and families.

“In talking to other coaches at the World Finals, I realized how fortunate we are to have such a supportive administration and school board,” said Klahn, who is grateful to ECS for funding the team’s trip to Michigan. “The fact that every student had at least one parent who accompanied them on our trip was wonderful for the students,” she added.

Indeed, everyone who traveled to the World Finals enjoyed seeing Klahn’s students represent their school, as well as New York State. Klahn said that during the Opening Ceremony on May 20, her students, as well as other teams representing New York, all wore matching shirts and Statue of Liberty crowns. Team member Elsa Woodarek even marched in the opening parade!

In addition to the Opening Ceremony, students participated in the Float and Banner Parade with other New York team members. While one student dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, team members Matthew Ives and Alysa Williams wore barrel costumes reminiscent of the brave individuals who journeyed over Niagara Falls in barrels.

On Friday, students performed their problem in front of a large panel of judges and an audience comprised of other teams, including one from South Korea. Although they did not leave Michigan with a trophy, their 26th ranking placed them in the top 30 of the 65 participating Division I teams who competed in Problem 5.

For many, the international experience of competing in the World Finals is a reward in and of itself, for students met others from all over the United States and the world. Klahn explained that her students had the unique experience of trading pins and hats with students from across the United States and many other countries around the world. Indeed, other Division I teams who competed in Problem 5 journeyed from as far away as Canada, China, Mexico, Poland, Singapore, and South Korea. Additionally, the experience of interacting with others on a college campus was exciting for the students, who would not otherwise have enjoyed such an opportunity at such a young age.

Although this year’s Odyssey of the Mind events have come to a close, students are looking forward to next year’s problem synopses, which have already been revealed.

Four of Klahn’s students will be moving up to Division II next year; however, the three that remain in her division are eagerly recruiting their classmates and looking forward to another opportunity for creative problem solving next year! For more information on OM, visit