Speaking with Diane Tomko’s future problem solvers, you get the sense that these Flagler Palm Coast High School 16 and 17 year olds have a thing or two to teach Wall Street about sound economic sense, the United Nations about food security, big and small employers about autism, and most Americans about bad eating habits.
You also get a sense of reassurance. The country may be in recession. Its knack for producing young minds who re-imagine pragmatism to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges isn’t. These aren’t modest issues the problem solvers took on this year. Which is why their rewards weren’t modest, either.
A maximum of two teams from any given county may qualify for the annual Future Problem Solving Program International competition For the first time in the program’s history, an exception was made–for Flagler County, and more particularly for Flagler Palm Coast High School. Two teams were tied for the second qualifying spot. It was too close to call. The Melbourne-based headquarters of the organization made the call: all three teams would represent Flagler at the competition at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on June 10-13. Flagler will have one more competitor in the individual category–Taylor Tofal, a 12th grader whose “Cookbook Project” puts the extent of world hunger in perspective for students who have never experienced or been exposed to food disparities, let alone hunger.
Just 3 percent of the 50,000 students who participate in the annual problem solving competition in their respective states and countries make it to the final round at the international level. It’s saying something about the quality of Tomko’s students, and the originality of their projects, that Flagler will make up a disproportionate share of that 3 percent.
FPC’s problem solvers are looking to raise $6,000 to underwrite travel costs for the 16 students going to Wisconsin. That’s where you come in: There’s a benefit tonight from 6 8 p.m. in the Bistro 600 café at Flagler Palm Coast High School. And if you can’t make it tonight, you can still contribute until early June by contacting Diane Tomko at 386/437-7540. (Read more on the benefit.)
Tomko has directed the high school’s problem solvers program since 1993. The teams she’s shepherded through have garnered some 32 international titles since then. This year, the school’s 16 entrants in Wisconsin will make up half the representation from all Florida schools at the international competition. They’ll be going up against teams from 40 states and seven countries–Australia, Great Britain, Hogn Kong, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore. If FPC’s reputation precedes it, those others tates and countries will take note when Flagler’s 16 walk in.
Take one of the projects in contention: “Cents and Sensibility,” the collaborative work of Wesley Adams, Brittany Eggum and Juan Flores. They wanted to provide elementary-school students something their schools and most of their parents don’t: an education in finance. “The reason we’re in the recession right now,” Adams says, “is parents way back in the day blew it off and said we don’t have to worry about that–educating children on finances and the importance of saving money.” Adams and his team developed a character called Bill (in the shape of something green by the same name), wrote a children’s book featuring Bill, narrated in rhymes, lavishly illustrated and printed on heavy-stock paper, called it “Cents and Sensibility,” and made it the centerpiece of their presentations to young students around town, primarily second graders. McDonald’s sticks toys in Happy Meals to drug children into fat-and-fast-food loyalty. Adams, Eggum and Flores used somewhat of a similar strategy to more empowering, instructive effect. As a moral in “Cents and Sensibility” goes, “Saving’s important for people young and old / So you can buy bikes and even rings of gold.”
And, of course, not be vassal to China’s banks in your old age.