Friday, April 8, 2022

Manchester School student wins prestigious OMER's Award

Fifth-grade student Harlie Menard received the OMER's Award
for her exceptional leadership abilities to reassure and cheer her
team members when they needed support, which earned her the
nickname 'OM Mother.' Team members help her celebrate her
award, from left are Sophia Albano, Mia Albano, Emma Poirer,
Devon Yates, Harlie Menard, Dr. Kyle Rhoads, Troy
Otterstein and Finnagen Niman. COURTESY PHOTO  
By Lorraine Glowczak

It was a whirlwind of excitement for Manchester Elementary School when fifth-grade student Harlie Menard was awarded the esteemed OMER’s Award on Saturday, March 26, in a regional Odyssey of the Mind (OM) tournament at Noble High School in Berwick.

Menard began participating in OM six years ago when she was a student at Windham Primary School.

“We are very proud of Harlie for this award and her many years of involvement in Odyssey of the Mind,” said Linda Berry, Windham Primary School’s Gifted and Talented Teacher and Menard’s OM Coach. “She has been a leader on her team at Windham Primary and Manchester Schools and is a great example of how Odyssey of the Mind helps students grow and learn in a fun, engaging, collaborative environment. Our OM teams were successful as a whole and it is great to have such a leader in Harlie.” 

OM is a creative problem-solving program involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together to solve a predefined long-term problem and present their solution to the problem at a competition. According to its website, participation in OM teaches students how to develop and use their natural creativity to become problem-solvers. OM’s mascot is a raccoon named OMER.

OMER's Award recognizes those individuals, coaches, team members, parents, officials and others who, during a tournament, serve as exemplary examples or role models through their actions or words. This award is also bestowed on team members who exhibit exceptional skill and talents.

Menard gained this highly coveted award due to her exceptional ability to reassure her team members when they felt unsure of themselves.

“When the team was off task, Harlie got them back on track, earning her the nickname ‘OM Mother’, said Jason Wheeler, Association Director of Maine OM. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching Harlie grow up in Odyssey of the Mind and while yes she is talented, the confidence she has developed through Odyssey is special.”

Menard shared one of the reasons why she enjoys participating in OM.

“My favorite parts of being a part of Odyssey of the Mind are teamwork, creativity and meeting new people.”

Windham Primary School began participating in OM 10 years ago when Dr. Kyle Rhoads, WPS principal, wanted to offer the experience to students. Berry began to coordinate the program at that point.

“We have more students participating every year,” Berry said in a previous interview. “This year we had roughly 40 students participating in the program.”

Fulfilling the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Common Core, and 21st Century Skills Initiatives, OM fosters critical and creative thinking in what the website states as an environment where there is no right or wrong, no grades, no standardized tests. Instead, students are introduced to creative problem-solving in tangible ways.

“Odyssey of the Mind aligns directly with the current district Strategic Plan, specifically around innovative practices and creative problem solving,” Rhoads said in a previous interview. “Importantly, our students learn lifelong skills and have loads of fun!”

The team of students and coaches, who begin to meet in late/fall early winter, select which of the five long-term problems they wish to solve.

“The specific problem changes every year, although there is always one in each of five categories: Vehicle, Technical/Performance, Classics, Structure and Theatrical,” Berry explained.

All coaches are volunteers and contribute to the students' success and their participation in OM.

“We truly need community support to operate successful teams,” Rhoads explained. “Teams are coached by volunteers and at times need to do some fundraising to buy supplies for their problem.”

In the past, OM students and volunteers raised funds to purchase the needed supplies and travel. But as the common theme these recent years, fundraising was put on hold.

“Due to the pandemic, we have not fundraised for two years but anticipate starting again in the Fall of 2022,” Berry said. “In 2020 the competition was canceled, in 2021 the tournament was a virtual event, but this year it was great to have it back in person. The fundraising events that we sponsor are a wonderful way for OM families to get to know other team families and come together to support our participation in the program.”

Berry stated that the OM students have been resilient for the last two years. With the uncertainty at times during the past two years, students and families have continued to problem solve logistical as well as program problems with great success.

“Our participation continues to grow each year, and we look forward to finding out what the long term problems are for 2023.”

Menard is also looking forward to next year and wants to share her excitement with others.

“I want others to know that not only is Odyssey of the Mind a great place to meet new friends but it is a place where you can be yourself and have an endless open mind to creativity.”<

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