Day school students compete in their first Odyssey of the Mind tournament

Day school students compete in their first Odyssey of the Mind tournament

Because competitions are typically held on Saturdays, students at Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools have been unable to participate in Odyssey of the Mind, an international creative problem-solving program popular among children throughout Pittsburgh’s public schools and other private schools.

This changed last Sunday, May 21, when more than 50 students from Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools engaged in an Odyssey of the Mind Competition held at CDS.

“None of these kids have competed in Odyssey of the Mind before,” said Becky Williams, a CDS middle school teacher who organized the program for the day schools.

Odyssey of the Mind has been around since 1978, challenging elementary and middle school students to use creative thinking to problem-solve. The students work in teams on long-term projects and are also presented with spontaneous challenges on the day of the competition.

Sunday’s tournament saw eight teams competing, with each team averaging about six students. The students, who were coached by teachers in this extra-curricular activity, were split into two divisions: third through fifth grade and middle school.

The teams vied for trophies in the categories of long-term problems, style and spontaneity.

“The whole point is that the children are leaning to think together as a team,” Williams said. “A lot of the work involves artistic abilities like acting, building and costume design.”

The halls of CDS were abuzz with excitement, as children put the finishing touches on their projects and readied their costumes for their eight-minute performances.

“The kids loved it,” said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, principal and educational director of Hillel Academy. “It’s a great outlet for them to express their creativity in a nonacademic setting, using problem-solving and teamwork. It’s fun.”

Mendel Hoexter, an eighth-grader from Yeshiva Schools, called Odyssey of the Mind “a good learning experience.”

“We were really thinking outside the box,” he said. “You need to be really creative and really go outside of the normal realm of thinking.”

The three day schools joining together for the competition is another example of fostering community among Jewish educational institutes in Pittsburgh, according to Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, principal of Yeshiva Boys School.

“It’s brought a lot of excitement and a lot of unity,” Rosenblum said. “When the three school operate together, it brings out the best in all of us. We are going to be brainstorming additional ideas of how to work together to strengthen Jewish education.”

Support for the competition came from the CDS Parent Association GRANTED! Program, and official trophies were awarded to the winners.

“Odyssey of the Mind aligns well with our educational goals at CDS of challenging our students to go beyond conventional thinking and tap into their inner creativity,” said CDS Head of School Avi Baran Munro in a statement.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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