Students put T.C. Williams on map for science and math skills

Students put T.C. Williams on map for science and math skills

A T.C. Williams’ squad is headed to the state finals, but you won’t find them lifting weights or running drills to prepare. It’s a competition of wits, not muscle. 

Seven Titans will join students from across the commonwealth competing for state bragging rights at the city’s sole public high school April 14 for the annual Odyssey of the Mind tournament. 

Just like it sounds, the Odyssey of the Mind program celebrates overcoming challenging mental problems, not success on a court, rink or athletic field. For example, T.C.’s team opted to compete in a challenge where participants take a simple tool and add as many complexities as they can think up. 

For coach Carol Schaedel and company, something as simple as sweeping the floor involved an elaborate system of pulleys, a balloon and several hairdryers to push dust and dirt away. It was good enough to put T.C. over Thomas Jefferson, a high school known nationally for mental prowess, in the regional tournament. 

“The idea is to think outside the box and be creative in a way that can accomplish a task,” Schaedel said. “Elation would be a good word [to describe the win]. We knew that Thomas Jefferson was probably going to be our strongest competition. They have a reputation for dominating Odyssey of the Mind.”

Program officials released the challenges in late summer, Schaedel said, giving teams time to gel, engineer a solution and build the device. 

For a school slapped with a poor rating from state and federal authorities after failing to meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks again, the success is evidence of students’ academic abilities, said School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts. 

“We couldn’t be more proud of those kids. We know they worked hard and we’re absolutely delighted by their achievement,” Folkerts said. “I think this is one terrific way to see that we have a terrific group of students and faculty and this also is one way to show us that they can and did succeed. As far as that [low-achieving] designation … we do know that we have so many students that are succeeding.”

The program, in its third year in Alexandria, attracts a wide swathe of students, according to Schaedel. Math and science buffs are drawn to the technical aspects, while students with strengths in writing and performing tend to draft scripts or present the finished project, she said. 

It’s just intellectually challenging, student Stephenie Slavin said in an e-mail. 

“By participating in Odyssey of the Mind, I not only learned about engineering concepts, how to improvise and how to perform in front of an audience, but I also learned about the virtues of teamwork, compromise, cooperation, and perseverance,” she said. 

With a win in the state tournament, T.C. would head to the University of Maryland for a chance at a world title. If they do, Folkerts expects Alexandria to root as hard for them as they would any other school team. 

“It’s always exciting and it’s always a community building opportunity to see our athletic teams do well, but I would expect this to garner as much excitement in the community,” she said. “They did some hard work and achieved great success.”