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Flagler County Schools’ Problem Solvers Collect 5 Trophies at International Tourney

| June 11, 2013

Flagler County's 2013 problem solver champions.

Flagler County’s 2013 problem solver champions.

Two constants about Flagler County’s Future Problem Solvers: the program keeps gaining visibility. And its participants keep winning awards.

Earlier this spring in Orlando teams and individuals from Flagler Palm Coast High School, Indian Trails Middle, Rymfire, Wadsworth and Bunnell elementaries placed in innumerable competitions at the state tournament, with teams from Bunnell and FPC qualifying for the international competition just concluded at Indiana University over the weekend.

They did well there again, too, collecting a total of five trophies–one first place award, two second place, and two third place. Flagler County’s awards represented fully one third of all the awards collected by Florida schools at a competition that featured some 2,000 students from around the globe.

It was vindication of sorts for a program that had its challenges this year. The school district has been proud of its results and has funded the problem solvers generously over the years, but tighter budgets required it to make a few choices this year. While the program survives intact, including the district’s travel subsidies for in-state competition, travel for the annual out-of-state tournament will have to be privately funded through fund-raisers–the way it was in the recent past.

The trophies matter, of course. But what amtters most is the curriculum itself, and the way it engages students in innovative ways of thinking and–well, problem solving.

Chase Rogers points enthusiastically to the design for a new brushfire truck he is developing with Michael Astrologo and Adam Weeks for their Problem Solvers class project at Florida Palm Coast High School.

Rogers points out features such as a cage over the cab for protection if the truck rolls over in a ditch responding to a brushfire and a bar on the front to go through brush and small trees.

The Problem Solvers are talking about adding another feature, a track system, which they learned would be advantageous for maneuvering in the woods after talking with local firefighters. “This truck could drive down the road and if you had some way to install a track system that would drop down – that would be unbelievable,” Rogers said.

Talking with local firefighters inspired a change in focus from Rogers’ original idea to design an amphibious fire truck capable of travel on land or water for larger cities with waterways, such as Jacksonville or Tampa. But local firefighters and forestry officials stressed the need for brushfire trucks to combat the annual wildfire danger in Flagler County.

Rogers, 15, a freshman, and Weeks, 16, a sophomore both remember the 1998 wildfires when all of Flagler County was under an evacuation order. Astrologo, 15, a freshman moved here recently. After firefighters shared a picture of a brushfire truck damaged after running into a ditch, Rogers “started thinking about what would make a better brushfire truck.”

Problem Solvers is a class that teaches critical, creative thinking and problem solving using local resources, said Diane Tomko, who teaches the class at the high school. The class is offered to all ages. Students choose a community issue and use a problem solving technique including brainstorming solutions to eventually develop a solution and action plan.

“It’s just amazing what the children come up with,” Tomko said. “The beauty of it is once they learn the problem-solving process, stepping back, blending into the wall and watching them take flight. No matter what their age, I think they’re going to have an impact on the community.”

Projects from problem solving students have included a café in the school media center, fire danger warning signs on county  roads, a sensory wall for autistic people and support for a world food program. Students participated in a state Problem Solving Bowl, March 17 to 20, at Lake Buena Vista. An international conference is planned June 9 to 12 at Indiana University.

Numerous Flagler Palm Coast High School students were successful at the bowl. Savannah Umpenhour was the big winner with a state championship title. Umpenhour and Lauren Perotta, Christina Gerhard and Kirsten Perotta participated on a team that won first place and was invited to the competition at Indiana University.

Umpenhour was among Flagler’s big winners at the international competition, taking second place in the middle division for individual community problem solving.

The brushfire truck design did not place, but it began with Rogers, who said he has always wanted to be a firefighter. “I dressed as a firefighter for Halloween at age two and it stared from there,” he said.

After Rogers changed his focus to a brushfire truck, Weeks and Astrologo joined the project, along with Josh Sanfilippo, 18, a senior.

Astrologo had been working on a marketing project. “I could market what he builds,” Astrologo said. “What we do in this small gifted class could go global. Weeks is interested in dentistry, but saw the brushfire truck as a great benefit to Flagler County. The 1998 brushfires reached his neighborhood. “If it helps the community, why not help?” Weeks said.


Rogers, Astrologo and Weeks said they thrive in the small class size of the Problem Solver classes and they praised the enthusiasm of their teacher, Tomko. “I know Ms. Tomko truly wants me to be successful,” Astrologo said. “Others say they do, but with her it’s genuine.”

Weeks said last year as a freshman he underperformed in every class but Problem Solvers. “This class was a sanctuary for me,“ he said. Problem Solvers is an honors class, which carries a “status” Weeks said he finds appealing. “I like coming here because I feel special,” he said.

Rogers finds an outlet for his passion to become a firefighter in the Problem Solver class. “I can relax here and think about my future,” he said.

As a team, the students plan to continue working in the years ahead as the complete high school and possibly beyond. Some Problem Solvers continue with their projects after high school. Their immediate plans include a tour of a fire station and meeting with a representative from a fire truck manufacturer. A successful design could continue the impact of their project beyond graduation and perhaps add more local capability to battle wildfires.

Other students have continued their Problem Solver projects after high school.

Taylor Tofal, 20, a junior architecture student at the University of Florida, continued her project after graduating from Flagler Palm Coast High School. She developed a cookbook, which she sells and donates the proceeds to a world food program operated through the United Nations. She’s raised almost $2,000 at $5 per book, including a recent sale.

“In the beginning it was something we all did,” Tofal said of the Problem Solvers. “I really enjoyed it, so I continued it in high school. I just think it’s a really great program, especially for younger kids. It shows there are problem in the community that need to be address. Why not address them yourself?”


Bunnell Elementary School’s Future Problem Solvers competed in the 2013 State Competition in Orlando, Florida on March 17-20th. Competitors competed in Community Problem Solving and Group Scenario Writing, led by coaches Jerri Berry, 4th Grade Teacher, Deborah Breeding, 5th Grade Teacher, and Cathie Zanella, Health Teacher.

Community Problem Solving:
Bunnell Elementary had four projects competing in the Community Problem Solvers category.

“The Movement Movement” a project about raising awareness about childhood obesity and the need to be more active and eat healthy, was submitted by Michael Pierre, 6th grade, and Elkhan Bagirov, 5th grade. Michael Pierre represented the group at the state competition and was awarded a Grand Champion title and an invitation to the international competition at Indiana University this June.

Taking first place for BES was the project “Green – The Only Earth Tone” – a recycling project implemented right on campus. Julia Reiter, Mariah Kinard, both sixth-graders, along with Isabel Petrin, Ashley Puentes, and Carlos Deeza, 5th graders, collected over 500 pieces of recycling and hope to continue the recycling project at BES.

“The Adoption Option” project brought home a second place win for efforts to raise awareness about the number of pets available for adoption in the county and the numbers of pets who are euthanized because of the lack of adoptions. Students created a Pet of the Week bulletin board showcasing an animal available for adoption. Members of the team are Daniella Sbordone, Sharon Gardner, Tara Tallaksen, Emily Puentes, all 6th graders, and Colleen Reed, 5th grade.

Another group attending the state competition submitted a project called “KADDS – Kids Against Distracted Driving” to raise awareness about the number of fatalities and crashes that happen due to driver distractions. Hope Brock, 5th grade, and Gregory Gardner, 6th grade represented this project.

Group Scenario Writing:
Daniella Sbordone received a 3rd place ribbon for her portion of the group scenario writing competition. Students are grouped with competitors from other schools and must create a group scenario related to the yearlong Future Problem Solving Topic.

Congratulations also to Ekatereena Kouzina, Ashley Luo, Matthew Pokorny, Serena Scalcione, and Anisa Zwolinski for competing at the State Competition in the Global Issues Problem Solving Component coached by Mrs. Jennifer Colindres.

Watch the opening ceremony of the international competition at Indiana University here.

Watch the award ceremony here.

2013 International Competition Results

Problem Solvers 2013 International Competition, Indiana University: Florida Results

2013 State Competition Results

Problem Solvers 2013State Competition, Orlando

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4 Responses for “Flagler County Schools’ Problem Solvers Collect 5 Trophies at International Tourney”

  1. Donna says:

    Awesome job, Flagler County FPS students. Way to rock the international competition! May you continue to flourish in the years to come. (:

  2. Out of Curiosity says:

    Awesome job students and thank you for your dedication coaches!

  3. Mrs. R says:

    Congratulations to all Flagler CMPS students and especially Mrs. Diane Tomko . She is truly an inspiration to all her students.

  4. Merrill Shapiro says:

    I’ll bet these fine young people would do an awesome job in putting together a campaign to educate the public about the need to adequately fund our Public Schools!!

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