Toil and trouble pay off for youthful performers

Mount Washington pupils win statewide contest

May 04, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

It was an eight-minute triumph.

Seven Baltimore pupils have won a statewide competition, writing a play that uses the form of a scene from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" to tell the story of Harriet Tubman and abolitionism.

Using the opening "Macbeth" scene in which witches foreshadow the end of the play, the characters in the pupils' production predict the Civil War and an end to slavery. "Beware Harriet Tubman. She will become the Moses of her people and lead 300 slaves to freedom," says a character who jumps from a black caldron in the play.

This might be a subject for a group of high-schoolers, but the authors are elementary pupils in third through fifth grades at Mount Washington Elementary School in North Baltimore. They wrote the verses and the music for the play and designed the set and costumes -- strictly without the help of parents or teachers.

Their effort was part of a competition called Odyssey of the Mind, which challenges teams throughout the United States and in 38 countries to think creatively in a two-part contest. The first part involves production of a short play. The second part requires team members to answer questions from judges.

Mount Washington will be the first city school in more than a decade headed to the world Odyssey of the Mind competition, scheduled for May 26-29 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Teams headed to Knoxville after winning the statewide competition late last month are Mount Washington; Cockeysville Middle School, Parkville High School and Kingsville Elementary School in Baltimore County; Urbana High School in Frederick County; Fallston Middle School in Harford County; Thomas Stone High School and La Plata High School in Charles County; Takoma Park Middle School in Montgomery County; St. Francis de Sales Ele- mentary School students in Wicomico County; Lockerman Middle School in Caroline County; and two teams from Glenarden Woods Elementary in Prince George's County.

"The children learn how to solve a problem by thinking it through, step by step. They had to come up with every costume, every note of music," said Mount Washington Principal Jacqueline Waters-Scofield. "It is an application of skills we teach them in class."

Katie Brown, a 10-year-old fourth grader, said the group began working after school three days a week in October, occasionally going in Saturdays to get the production rolling. The Odyssey of the Mind competition requires students to choose among several categories for the competition. The other categories included environmental issues and customer service.

Mount Washington's pupils competed in the "O, My Faire Shakespeare" category.

"We picked [the story of] Harriet Tubman because she was born in Maryland," Katie said.

The second part of the competition has teams perform exercises requiring creative responses. For example, Katie said, they might have to name all of the things you can do with a basketball hoop. Or, said Waters-Scofield, they might be asked to name things that are blue. Rather than give an obvious answer such as "the sky," she said, team members might say, "the light reflected off a bubble as it floats through the air."

To prepare for judges' questions, Katie said the team practiced for 45 minutes each Friday. Often, she said, their parents and second-grade teacher Lynn Rubin, the coach, would invite guests from different professional fields.

The children must raise $9,000 to pay for the trip to Knoxville. "We are asking foundations and businesses for money," said Nora Feinstein, a third-grader.

The last city elementary school to go to the world competition was Callaway Elementary more than a decade ago, according to the parent coaches.

"It is very exciting. It is a very big deal for our school. We have been trying for seven years," said Rubin, who has been working with groups of pupils each year hoping to win the competition.

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