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A group of students from the Wauwatosa School District will compete at the Destination Imagination Global Finals at the end of May in Knoxville, Tennesee — a feat that one student said she was 'ecstatic' about.

Destination Imagination is a program that provides project-based learning opportunities combining STEM education with the arts and service learning, said Anne Coulling, co-director of Wisconsin Destination Imagination in the Milwaukee region. Coulling is also a DI coordinator at Wauwatosa East High School.

During the 2015-16 school year, there were 35 Destination Imagination teams in the Wauwatosa School District, plus three teams from St. Jude the Apostle School. In total, this year's team count boasted an increase of 84 percent from last year, said Coulling.

There were teams at Lincoln, Roosevelt, Underwood, Washington and Wilson/WSTEM elementary schools, Longfellow Middle School and Wauwatosa East High School, Coulling said.

Through the organization, students in grades K through12 work together on small teams to solve open-ended challenges and then present their solutions at tournaments.

Every fall, the teams choose one of six challenges to solve and then spend several months solving the challenge, Coulling said. Each challenge has a different emphasis and varying requirements.

For example, the 'fine arts' challenge required students to present a mystery story set in a time period before 1990. The 'structural' challenge required students to build a structure that would support weight and function as a musical instrument, and then perform a skit with at least one musical character, Coulling said.

A team at Wauwatosa East High School completed a service learning project, she said.

'They wanted to do a project to benefit Tosa Cares, so they decided to sell hanging herb gardens, which are in a frame and hang on a wall, and then donate the profit to Tosa Cares,' she said. 'They took orders, constructed a bunch of frames, and grew plants. Then they created a skit about their project, including an evaluation of what went well and what didn't go so well. In the skit, each student represents a different kind of herb.'

Coulling's daughter, Mary Catherine McMahon, was a member of that team. The Tosa East student said Destination Imagination is one of 'the most beneficial extrextracurricularivities a student can partparticipate'

'I often find myself thinking harder at meetings than I have throughout a school day due to the problem solving and creative thinking that one encounters,' she said.

Coulling said not only does the program improve creative and critical thinking skills, it also helps develop patience, flexibility, persistence and 'leadleadershiplities.'

'It teaches them how to fail, and how to keep experimenting until they succeed,' she said. 'It also helps them become much better at collaboration and teamwork.'

The five Wauwatosa teams selected to compete at Global DI finals May 25-28 will travel to Knoxville for the tournament.

'I am ecstatic to go to globals,' McMahon said. 'I went once before in seventh grade and it was such an incredible experience. There is an amazing mix of people and cultures. This year I hope to learn new skills through the workshops that are offered by different professional groups.'

This year's competition will feature teams from 21 countries. More than 8,000 students are expected to compete, according to the competition's website, globalfinals.org.

The local Destination Imagination teams will hold two fundraisers to help pay for the cost of advancing to globals. The first fundraiser is scheduled for 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 13 at Cold Spoons Gelato, 5924 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee. A car wash and penny carnival fundraiser is scheduled for June 4 at Longfellow Middle School's east parking lot.

An online fundraising website has been set up at squ.re/1rQrTfN.

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