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Farmington students are global champs

Farmington's JAM2K team of Kelli Elmer, Aly Grebner, Jeanna Gaalswyk, Katie Aaron and Maricia Pacheco earned first place in the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals in May. The team will donate their trophy to Farmington Elementary School.2 / 2

Just imagine being the best at something.

High school athletes strive for it all the time -- earning the state title. College athletes shoot for a national title.

But a global title? To be the best in the world? Well, if you're not an athlete, you probably want to take a few tips from five Farmington middle school students.

Jeanna Gaalswyk, Aly Grebner, Maricia Pacheco, Kelli Elmer and Katie Aaron have some pretty good imagination skills. So good, in fact, that just a few weeks ago they earned first place in the the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

And that means they're the best in the world.

Destination ImagiNation, or DI as it's called, is an academic challenge. Teams are required to learn random facts on about 10 subjects. When they go to competitions, they are asked to come up with a skit based on one of these 10, though they never know what the selected subject is ahead of time.

They're also asked to incorporate an emotion, plus, this year, a "non-existent super hero power."

And on top of that, they're given just seven minutes to drum up an entire skit that incorporates all pieces before they perform for the judges.

As part of the judging process, the judges listen in as the teams plan their skits. Judges look for teamwork, they consider the organizational skills team members exhibit.

A top score in DI competition is 300. JAM2K -- named for the first letters of the girls' first names -- accumulated 236 points in Tennessee.

The team performed just once in global competition. Their selected subject was the Great Barrier Reef. The emotion was superstition, and the "non-existent super hero power" was jumping through hoops.

Things got a little tricky down there, though. It turns out, they'd forgotten their research notes, and had to go ahead strictly on their collective memory of the subject.

"We did really well with the facts," said Aaron. "It wasn't necessarily our funniest skit, but we had everything we needed."

'Everyone went crazy'

This was the third trip to Globals for most of the team. They'd done well in the past, but competition is pretty stiff. Only 68 teams qualified for the competition, and they were all the best of the best from their state or country.

So there they were, sitting at the awards ceremony. They watched a Jumbotron from their seats, where the tenth through fourth place teams were displayed. The top three spots were announced

"They said third, and it wasn't us. They said second, and it wasn't us, and we were like, 'Oh, there's always 11th place and they didn't show it," Gaalswyk said. "And then they said 'J' and everyone went crazy."

"We didn't even hear the rest of our names," Elmer added.

"Even later, Kelly clenched my arms and wouldn't stop screaming in my face," Grebner said.

The trophy

The girls came together as a Destination ImagiNation team gradually. Aaron, Gaalswyk and Elmer started in the DI program when they were in second grade. Grebner joined them in third grade and Pacheco came along in fourth grade.

They were all students at Farmington Elementary School back then. There, they learned about the program. There, they started their team. There, they received unconditional support and encouragement.

Third grade teacher Sue Rodman led the DI program for a while back then. So it was no big surprise when, on June 4, Rodman was there to greet the team when they came to FES to do a program on Destination ImagiNation.

The girls thought it was only right to go back to Farmington Elementary School with the medals around their necks and the trophy in hand. They wanted to show younger students what Destination ImagiNation was all about.

They did a mini version of the challenge process. In just a few minutes, they built up a skit about pandas and bamboo, where one member was always afraid, and another had the non-existent super hero power of "kicking poo."

They got a standing ovation from the FES students and faculty. But there were even more cheers when principal Ben Januschka announced that the team had decided to permanently house the trophy at FES.

Sure, the girls will take it around a few weeks more and show it off. But when it comes time to finding a permanent home for the trophy, the team decided Farmington Elementary was the perfect location. It's where they met. It's where they got started, and it's where they've received the most support over the years.

"We almost owe it to them," Aaron said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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