It was coming down to the wire.
With just two practices left before the state competition, the kids on the Dade City Pirates Odyssey of the Mind team were bouncing around ideas, along with the names of high-end cars and some rhyming words, for a rap song they would perform during the state competition this Saturday at the University of Central Florida.
"How about a Lamborghini?" someone suggested.
"Or maybe a Ferrari?" was another idea.
"A Jaguar?" someone else tossed out. "Or a Cadillac — or Caddy?"
"Mmmm, Caddy. Let's see how that would go," said Michael Washington, 10, before launching into spontaneous verse:
Riding in my Caddy.
Stunting like my daddy…
Driving to the Crusty Crabby
To get some crabby patties."
It's called brainstorming, and it turns out these kids are pretty good at it. Since early October the team has been working together in these Monday after-school sessions, and it has finally paid off in a big way.
This is only the second year Cox Elementary has sent students to compete in Odyssey of the Mind, an international problem-solving competition for students in elementary through college. Last year the school sent just two teams to regional competition, and that was as far as they got.
This year, the Dade City Pirates were one of nine teams from Cox to compete in the Gulf Coast Regional Odyssey of the Mind competition held in late February. After tying for fifth-place in the intermediate competition, the Pirates qualified to go to state competition along with the school's primary team, Wildcat Sweets, which is composed of kids in kindergarten through second grade. Primary teams are chosen at random for state competition.
The Wildcat Sweets will do a candy factory skit for the state competition. The catch? All the candy in the factory must be healthy.
To win the regional competition, the Pirates had to design and build an original mock-up vehicle with very specific measurements and a budget of $145. The vehicle would have to withstand the elements in four different earthly environments: the forest, desert, arctic and the ocean.
Students also had to create a skit and partake in a spontaneous problem-solving session. Their original idea of using a Range Rover-type vehicle got them to the state competition, but last week the team was thinking about going the Caddy route for the next round.
"We decided to come up with a different rap," said team member Jacob Latham, 8.
"We thought about it, then we decided together what we would do," said Michael Washington.
That's the way it's supposed to go, said Exceptional Student Education teacher Kerry Olds, who co-sponsors the Pirate team with fellow teacher Katty Chois.
"We're just here to facilitate. We don't give any instructions. They do it all themselves," she said. "They work well together as a team. They don't argue. If they don't agree, they don't fight about it. They talk it out."
Brandon Maldonado, the school's instructional technology specialist who coordinated the Odyssey of the Mind program at Cox Elementary, said he has seen a lot of growth in the roughly 70 students who took part in the program.
"I just like the opportunity that it provides the kids," he said. "The chance it gives for them to think outside the box, the chance to present their ideas in a way that they sometimes can't in the regular classroom. This is the kind of thing they thrive in."
The state competition also provides a unique travel experience for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit a college campus.
Many are economically deprived, with 95 percent of Cox Elementary's students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Nearly two-thirds of the students are Hispanic, and many of them have limited English proficiency skills, Maldonado said.
So there's little doubt that this is a very big deal.
"We're pretty hyped up," said Michael Washington.
"There is quite a bit of excitement about the two teams going to competition," said principal Leila Mizer, noting that the school had enlisted school and community financial support to help pay travel and meal expenses for students to go to regional and state competitions.
"The kids are so excited they can't stand it," she said. "They're going to stay in a hotel and eat on the UCF campus."
And maybe, just maybe, this experience will be the first of many these students will strive for in the future.
"I hope that's what they're thinking," Mizer said. "I really want them to aspire to be the best they can be."