As students at celebrated Catholic Schools Week, they decided to put their own twist on this year's theme, while helping the less fortunate in the process.
The Kendall Park Catholic school collected over 800 pounds of food to be distributed through the South Brunswick Food Pantry and Community Outreach Program during the week-long celebration of a Catholic education.
But the students on the school's Odyssey of the Mind teams were inspired by this year's Catholic schools week theme of F.A.S.T (Faith, Academics and Service), and decided to run with it. The six teams each designed their own sculpture of a train car to represent F.A.S.T, as they also demonstrated service to the community.
"The students on the Odyssey of the Mind teams learn teamwork and learn how to do things by themselves, while building problem solving skills," said coach Evelyn Wan. "So for Catholic Schools Week, we decided to do something for the community out of all the food that was donated."
The St. Augustine Odyssey of the Mind teams are not strangers to success, with two of the six teams competing at the World Finals in 2011. But with the recent food drive, the kids decided to put their skills to the test for Catholic Schools Week.
"We usually just put the cans of food in boxes, but this year we decided to make it more fun using the theme of F.A.S.T to make a train," said Sophia Wan, a fifth-grader from East Brunswick.
When the choice was made to turn the donations into a representation of the Catholic Schools Week theme, there was naturally one group of students who took the lead on the project.
"With doing something with each letter of F.A.S.T being a symbol, we decided to build a train and go on the St. A's express," said eighth-grader Alejandro Roig, of Franklin. "When the decision was made to build a train out of the cans, the only ones crazy enough to try it were the Odyssey of the Mind teams."
Katherine Blum, a sixth-grader from North Brunswick, said putting all of the different elements of the project together was challenging, but that comes with the territory as a member of the Odyssey of the Mind squad.
"The first challenge was sorting the cans and finding the different colors. We had to figure out how to balance the cans and work with the team to make the wheels," Katherine said. "But Odyssey of the Mind helps us to be creative and work as a team on projects like this. It's great to be on stage and performing, and it's also nice to compete against other people from around the state."
Beyond developing team-building skills, the kids said being a member of the high-achieving Odyssey of the Mind group helps them develop in a different way beyond the classroom.
"Being a member of this team helps us to express our feelings, to be more outgoing and to become a leader," said sixth-grader Gabriel Argate, of North Brunswick. "It takes problem solving to a whole new level."
But ultimately, the construction of the train was secondary to the real purpose of the food collection. Team members Kristen Broskey, an eighth-grader from Somerset, and Sam Gillespie, a seventh-grader from Kingston, said the work was rewarding because it helped them to see how lucky they are, while also helping to benefit those in need.
"With all the food that came in, we realized how fortunate we are to have all that we have," Sam said. "This project let us use our creativity, teamwork and experience in building things. In return, it helps to develop, to learn how to work in large groups and to trust each other."
Kendall Park sixth-grader Kelly Matuszewski agreed, and summed up the message of the F.A.S.T train.
"We're all really fortunate so we should give to the less fortunate," she said. "It feels really good to know we're helping people who are going hungry."