Creative Minds will compete in Poland

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 23, 2016

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The Troy Creative Minds group meets for around three hours on the weekends, practicing ways to solve problems on the fly —  in front of an audience.

Veronica Ballios is an eighth-grader at Larson Middle School. She’s been on her team, The Rainbow Seven, for six years.

She said the improvisational challenges involve identifying real-world problems and educating others about them or solving technical challenges.

“It’s a lot of fun. They give you some elements to put in a story, and you come up with a story,” Ballios said.

Team members use acting skills to represent their character in the story.

“I used to be really nervous acting in front of people,” Ballios added. “It helped me open up and be in front of people.”

She said her team has been practicing for a trip to Poland over spring break and hopes to spend a day in a Polish classroom after the competition. They also plan to visit Prague and Krakow.

Larson Middle School parent Danielle Buser said the team is part of Destination Imagination, a nonprofit, volunteer-led organization that provides student teams with challenges, testing their ability to think on their feet and work together to devise original solutions that satisfy specific challenge requirements. Her son, Justin, has been on the team for six years.

According to its website, Destination Imagination encourages teams to have fun, take risks, focus and frame challenges while incorporating science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Buser said that each year there are different challenges.

“They’re given a problem, create characters, do research and improvise a skit. The team is very well-behaved and work well together,” Buser said.

The Rainbow Seven has a GoFundMe page to help with travel expenses at

Danielle Buser’s husband, Dennis Buser, a team manager, said this year’s improvisational challenge is themed “Close Encounters.”

Via email, he explained that the students must deliver an improv performance integrating four improv elements after a five-minute planning session. For the Close Encounters scenario, teams got a list of confined spaces to research ahead of time, including a train sleeping cabin and a research station on Antarctica.

He said the team researched and developed storyboard frameworks to fold into the improv elements provided at the tournament.

He said the team is practicing to deliver “what looks like a seamless performance to the most random combinations of inputs you can imagine. It takes quick thinking, creativity and a team that works very well together.”

The Troy School District has 31 teams and more than 180 students. Sixteen of the 23 teams are going to the state finals at Central Michigan University April 16. The Rainbow Seven team decided to forgo that competition to travel to the European Invitational in Poland.

Younger students, in kindergarten through second grade, take on noncompetitive challenges, while kids in grades three-12 engage in competitive challenges.   Many Troy Creative Minds teams have competed on an international level.

“We have awesome, creative, hard-working students and supportive, energetic parents who enjoy working with the kids,” Mina Mori, who teaches Japanese at Athens High school, said via email.  She serves on the board of Troy Creative Minds.

Larson parent volunteer Danielle Clippard said her children became involved to develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Her son, Justin, has been on The Rainbow Seven team for six years.

“It also exposes them to working as part of a team and performing in front of an audience and judges,” Clippard said via email.

“Parents are not allowed to participate in the solution and sign an agreement not to interfere. The solution must be developed only by the kids. The kids enjoy meeting with their teammates and solving challenges that are given to them,” Clippard said.

“Parents can volunteer as a team manager or host meetings or whatever the team asks them to do.  One thing that they cannot do at all is to give ideas or answers to any of the challenges,” Mori said.  “Once anyone outside of the team member provides a solution, it is called ‘interference,’ which will disqualify the team.

“A typical practice begins with teamwork-oriented activity, like riddles, puzzles and improv. Some challenges require engineering and prop building. All challenges require research, trial/error runs and great teamwork,”  Mori said. “Each challenge is unique. Some gear more towards science and math than others, while some focus more on creative writing and theater.  But all of them require research, story writing/telling, somewhat of acting, public speaking/performance, and technical building skills.”

Each fall, there is an informational meeting, usually held at Larson Middle School. Visit, or for more information.