Five Edgar Murray Elementary students placed first in a world competition with a project they worked on all last school year.

They called themselves the Wonder Wolves team, which consisted of fourth-graders Landen Baxter, Myah Beeson, Ali Clark, Mattea Casey and Lilly Verrett who are in Jennifer Hawkins’ gifted class.

The team’s service learning project involved creating an escape room for the St. Clair community. It was a work in progress last school year for the Destination Imagination competition.

Beeson, Casey and Verrett, along with Hawkins, competed in the 19th annual Destination Imagination Global Finals May 23-26 at the University of Tennessee.

In addition to presenting their project to judges, the Wonder Wolves solved a challenge. Their scores earned them first place out of 77 teams from around the globe, according to Hawkins.

“I didn’t believe it was real when they called our school’s name,” Casey said.

Edgar Murray Elementary was the only Missouri school that placed in the top three spots, according to Hawkins.

“It brought tears to my eyes as soon as I heard our school’s name called for first place,” Beeson said.

Service Project

Hawkins’ students sent out surveys to residents to determine what type of service project to create. A total of 200 responses were received, which concluded that families would like more activities to do in town.

Additionally, Hawkins took her students around St. Clair to note what type of things needed fixing or sprucing up.

The students sent letters to businesses explaining their project, and asked if they could clean up their storefronts.

The gifted class partnered with City Administrator Travis Dierker. After some brainstorming and months of work, the students turned the Frisco caboose into an escape room for the public, according to Hawkins.

Participants of the caboose escape room must figure out how to stop a fictional crime story from taking place. The story, created by the students involves “two gang members (who) are hijacking the train because it’s carrying $5,000 from William Randolph Hearst. And he’s delivering it to Farmers & Merchants Bank for a sick family member.”

In order to stop the train before it arrives in St. Clair, the participants solve puzzles that incorporate St. Clair history, math, flash lights, playing cards, Morse code, Braille and more. After solving the puzzles, participants will be able to unlock cases to help win the game.

“One of the most engaging parts of their skit was their Crazy Train Parody,” Hawkins said. “You could hear audience members singing, ‘You’re going to have to escape the Frisco Caboose,’ after the presentation was over.”

The students charged $10 for adults and $5 for students. A total of $544 was raised and the proceeds went to purchasing flowers and paint to help beautify the city, according to Hawkins.

The city’s history was incorporated into the caboose escape room because of St. Clair’s 175th anniversary this year. Members of the St. Clair Historical Museum helped the students with history facts and information.

In April, the Wonder Wolves presented their service learning project that included project plans, a time line, data, info-graphics and a song at the state competition in Joplin.

The students had to create a container to hold their props, costumes and everything they needed for the presentation that resembled a caboose. The Wonder Wolves placed first at state, which made them eligible to compete at the global finals.

“I like this competition because it is project-based, involves creative problem solving, and allows students to choose topics based on their interests,” Hawkins said. “These challenges require students to collaborate with others, problem solve, and think creatively, which are all skills that will prepare them for the future.”

Global Finals

Each year, more than 150,000 students across the U.S. and 30-plus countries participate in the DI Challenge Experience.

The Wonder Wolves had the opportunity to meet students from around the world, watch other performances, swim, participate in a costume ball, dance at an “Evening Under the Stars” and compete in a life size game called, “Top of the Food Chain.”

“It was an amazing opportunity to get to go to Globals,” Verrett said. “Even with the challenges, we came out No. 1 like I knew we would.”

Hawkins took the students to see the Smoky Mountains National Park-Cades Cove, Cummins Falls and they went geocaching in Townsend.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” Beeson said.

Imagination Destination

Destination Imagination, Inc. is a volunteer-led nonprofit organization with the purpose to inspire and equip students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders.

The organization is a leader in project-based learning experiences, where students work together in teams to solve open-ended science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics and service learning challenges and then present their solutions at tournaments.

The organization was founded in 1982 and since then, it has impacted more than 2 million students. To learn more, visit destinationimagination.org.