A meeting of the minds

Nine Burlington County school districts come together for the 28th annual Brain Drain Games, a series of challenges aimed at building teamwork and problem solving skills.

From left, fourth graders Samuel Clark, Alex Berman, Isabella Maza and Genevieve Yacouetti, representing Delran, Moorestown and Cinnaminson school districts respectively, participate in Pongo, which challenges students to see how far they can get a ping pong ball to travel using only masking tape, during the 28th annual Brain Drain Games at Memorial School in Cinnaminson.

On Wednesday, April 10, more than 160 fourth-graders from nine school districts throughout Burlington County met at Memorial School in Cinnaminson for the 28th annual Interdistrict Conference Day, also known as the Brain Drain Games.

Students from the Cinnaminson, Delran, Hainesport, Maple Shade, Moorestown, Palmyra, Pennsauken, Riverside and Tabernacle school districts competed in a variety of challenges meant to test their problem-solving skills and develop their ability to work as a team.

Rather than pitting one district against another, students were broken into groups consisting of children from each of the nine districts.

“It is exciting to watch the students come together for the first time and attack a problem and come up with a solution within the 18-minute time frame for each activity,” said Elaine Mendelow, coordinator for the games. “We believe that students will achieve a better understanding of working as a team when they are given an opportunity to work closely together.”

The annual event is organized by the Western Burlington County Regional Consortium for Fine Arts/Gifted and Talented, whose stated purpose is to share resources and ideas to improve the education for those students who participate in gifted and talented programs as well as in the arts.

The consortium, formed in 1990 by several school districts in Western Burlington County, meets throughout the year to plan the games and share ideas on how to improve the fine arts and gifted and talented educational programs available to their students.

“It’s important for gifted kids to be around other gifted kids and to learn how to socialize with other people from other districts,” said Robert Lyons, a project challenge teacher at Eleanor Rush.

Paula Kitts is an accelerated math and challenge teacher at Moorestown Upper Elementary. A veteran of the Brain Drain Games, this being her 10th year participating, Kitts tries hard to impress the socialization aspect of the day on her students.

“When I give them the groups, I tell them the heart of the idea of today is to meet new people and learn to work with new people like in the real world. You’re not always going to have your friends around,” said Kitts. “I hope that they learn how important it is to work with others, listen to other ideas and that you can be successful by working as a team.”

Among the volunteer-led challenges students competed in were games like Pongo, Strupports and the Marshmallow Challenge. Each activity required students to work together to create a functional structure using limited materials to accomplish a task.

In Pongo, students were given a ping pong ball and a roll of two-inch masking tape. Using only these two materials, they had to figure out the best way to get the ball the furthest distance they could down a masking tape slide they created as a team.

Similarly, in Strupports, students created a straw bridge using 50 straws and their wrappers. The bridge needed to be strong enough to support a variety of weights. The teams were judged based on the length of their bridge and how much weight it could hold.

Tracy McDonald and Erica Gugliemucci are members of the PTA in Palmyra who volunteered to help at the Brain Drain Games. McDonald presented the Marshmallow Challenge, where students were tasked with building a free-standing structure out of uncooked spaghetti, tape and string that was strong enough to support a marshmallow on top.

According to the women, most of the students they worked with started the day a little apprehensive about teaming up with other kids they didn’t know, but this wore off as the day went on.

“Some people are shy and some of them have to warm up, but as it goes on you see that they get to know each other,” said McDonald.