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Powder Mill students compete in international problem solving competition

Date: 6/28/2011

June 29, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK — They were finalists, but not first place winners this time around.

The eight sixth graders involved in Gifted and Talented teacher Susan Pac’s Community Problem Solving group, Students Against Graffiti (SAG), at Powder Mill Middle School took their solution to the repeat tagging of the town’s bike trail tunnel — a student-inspired mural coated with a sealant that can be cleaned — to the Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) competition at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse June 9 through 12.

“They did fine, ” Pac said of the La Crosse experience. “They competed at a very high level against the very best [students] in the world and they did a remarkable job.”

The students won the honor of attending the Wisconsin event by placing first in the state-level FPSPI middle school division competition this spring.

Pac added this group was not the first from Powder Mill to make the FPSPI International finals. Students in this year’s graduating high school class competed in Colorado Springs, Colo., four years ago.

Allison Scharmann, one of the seven students able to make this year’s trip, said it was “a hard competition with kids from all over the country, all over the world,” but still a good experience.

Emily Lachtara said what she enjoyed the most about the trip was the chance to meet students from different cultures.

“It was really cool to see people from other countries and interact [with them] and see what their problem solving ideas were like,” Lachtara said.

Lachtara’s mother, Wendy, had helped organize a fund-raiser for the group’s trip with the Southwick McDonald’s, and the students and Pac made a post-competition visit to the restaurant on June 23 to receive a $500 check toward competition expenses.

McDonald’s Manager Brian Condarcuri said the restaurant offered the fund-raiser, in which customers could purchase a specially designed paper cutout similar to the Children’s Miracle Network balloon for $1, with the proceeds supporting SAG’s trip.

“We ran it for about two weeks,” Condarcuri said. “We had a lot of people take part.“

Pac said the students had a total of about two day’s work left to compete the tunnel project, and that the work would be done in conjunction with artists who were working on the details of the mural.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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