HomeCherry Hill NewsKids empowered to have a voice in Katz JCC’s Destination Imagination program

Kids empowered to have a voice in Katz JCC’s Destination Imagination program

Last Tuesday, students in grades kindergarten through four presented their Destination Imagination projects.

Parents of students in the Katz JCC’s Destination Imagination program were challenged to build a pyramid of plastic cups using only string during an award ceremony for the program last Tuesday. Pictured are Adam Greenberg, Michele Meyer, Soolin Ziarnowski and Leigh Mondelblatt.

Kids in grades kindergarten through four took center stage at the Katz JCC Social Hall last Tuesday.

More than 20 kids who are part of the JCC’s Destination Imagination program presented their projects in front of a room full of family and friends. The event marked a new high point for the program, which debuted at the JCC just a couple years ago.

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According to its website, Destination Imagination is a “global education nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of innovators, leaders and creative problem solvers.” The organization annually creates team challenges for students of various ages. Students are allowed to form teams of two or more people and complete the challenges. The kids can go on to compete in a state-level Destination Imagination competition with the opportunity to qualify for nationals. The state tournament took place on Saturday, March 23.

What sets Destination Imagination apart from other programs is its student-first focus. The challenges are meant to be entirely student-driven and prohibit teachers or staff from participating or taking an active role.

“They do their own team names,” said Michelle Carrera Foster, the JCC’s Early Childhood Camp Director and lead facilitator for the Destination Imagination program. “They choose who’s going to do what. They come up with the story themselves. They make their own costumes. I just provide them with the materials. They tell me what materials I provide for them.”

Destination Imagination began in 2017 at the JCC with one team of seven students. The program now has five teams of 28 students, and Carrera Foster believes there will be even more teams added in the future.

Sari Isdaner Early Childhood Center Director Donna Snyder believes the program has taken off because it fits in perfectly with the childhood center curriculum’s focus on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“It’s becoming second nature to them,” Snyder said about STEAM. “It’s part of what we do every day.”

This year, four of the five presenting teams completed Destination Imagination’s Early Learning/Rising Stars challenge. This challenge was for kids in preschool to second grade and tasked them to create a life-size pop-up story book. The story book had to include a technical device and integrate a pop-up item within the story.

The JCC’s fifth team took on Destination Imagination’s technical challenge, where it was tasked with designing and building a functioning aircraft capable of delivering a team-created payload. The team was also asked to create a story revolving around the project.

Last Tuesday, all five teams presented their stories prior to receiving medals from Katz JCC Executive Director Les Cohen for participating in the program.

“This year, we added that they actually did the presentation here for the families,” Snyder said. “We made it more of a night. We had our executive director actually give out the medals. It’s becoming more a part of the JCC.”

A number of the participating kids are part of the JCC’s Early Childhood Center, with others coming from the JCC’s Just4Kids after school program.

“It’s an incentive for kids to come back to us and go to our after-school program, Just 4 Kids, once they get to elementary,” Snyder said. “That’s how we’ve grown.”

Both Carrera Foster and Snyder believe the biggest benefits go beyond just learning about STEAM. They have seen the participating kids gain confidence and develop a passion for problem-solving. Snyder believes watching the teams’ journey from the start of their projects to the finish is the most rewarding part of the program.

“Just seeing them grow, the confidence, seeing them have that light bulb moment … that to me is the stuff that makes me smile,” Carrera Foster added.


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