Destination Imagination Program Brings Rewards and Challenges

by Jane McDougal IMG_2650

Destination Imagination (DI) is an international competition for students of all ages that promotes independence, leadership, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork. Teams compete at regional tournaments, and qualifying teams move on to States and Globals.

My husband has enjoyed managing our oldest son’s DI team for four years at the TAG elementary school. This year I took on the challenge of managing a team for our middle child, a third grader at the neighborhood school. His school did not have a DI program in place, so I reached out to our new principal and the regional DI coordinator for help in getting a team started. This year, we started small with a team of five: four boys and one girl. As a mom of three boys, I felt I could handle it.

Destination Imagination is completely led by the students on the team. Teams choose one of seven challenges (Fine Arts, Engineering, Scientific, Improv, Service/learning, Technical, and Early Learning) and present their solution at a regional tournament in February, March, or April. The team also chooses their team name and decides how they will divide the work and solve the challenge.

My team chose the Fine Arts Challenge: Vanished! They were tasked with presenting a story about the disappearance of a color and how it affected a world. Additionally, they had to create a colorful character that was either involved in or affected by the disappearance of the color. And finally, they had to use a theatrical method to create a vanishing act. This was to be an eight-minute presentation. It’s a tall order for two third graders, two fourth graders, and one fifth grader.

They also had to prepare for the instant challenge portion of the competition. At the tournament, each team is given the same challenge (improv, task based, or a combination) to complete in a short amount of time. The instant challenge is worth a smaller percentage of the final score, but it is still an important part.

In order to succeed in DI, students on the team must learn how to motivate themselves and work together. As a team manager, I provided guidance, support, and access to materials, but it was up to the kids to build props, create costumes, and make decisions. I can be a bit of a control freak so it was hard to sit back and let them take the lead, but that is what DI is all about. It was quite the experience, watching the different personalities and work styles coming together.

We met once a week after school, but in the final week before the regional tournament we met three times. It wasn’t until the very end that my team was ready to practice their skit. Costumes were still coming together until the last practice. But when the time came to perform for the appraisers and the family, friends and strangers who were all there to watch, they did it! They were even able to improvise a bit when they couldn’t find one of the props. Then it was time for the instant challenge. I was worried about this — we hadn’t had as much time to prepare for instant challenges during our practices. The team was presented with the challenge, and I had to sit there (sitting on my hands to keep myself from accidentally interfering) and watch them work together to solve it. They rocked it! They demonstrated amazing team work and organization.

My team came in fourth out of seven elementary-level teams doing the Fine Arts challenge. I am so very proud of them. They have come such a long way from where they started in the fall. They have earned first place as far as I am concerned. The weekly time commitment and occasional team frustrations along the way were worth it to see the team excel in the end.

Interested in getting a Destination Imagination Team started at your school? Here are some steps to take:

  1. Complete the PGCPS volunteer requirements, including the fingerprinting background check, if you have not already done so.
  1. Coordinate with the school principal to find out if there is interest.
  1. Recruit team members! Consider working with school staff to send out flyers, include information in school newsletters, and talk to parents at school events/PTA meetings.
  1. Be upfront with families about the costs and volunteer needs. In addition to a manager, each team will need a volunteer appraiser and two-hour volunteer for the tournament. The appraiser needs to commit to a Saturday training and will appraise challenges for the full tournament day. PGCPS pays for one team per school, up to 30 teams. However, there are additional costs including tournament registration fees, materials for practice and competition, and meeting incidentals like snacks.
  1. Register the team with Destination Imagination and put those student imaginations to work.

Additional information is available on the Maryland Destination Imagination website:

Regional Coordinator for US-Central Region: Christine Price,, 301-919-8685

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