Southern Arizona schools are on summer break, and kids are enjoying some free playtime and activities with friends and families.

One bright young team of elementary school students in Oro Valley will have to wait a couple of months before they can start building something new together next year.

The kids at Innovation Academy elementary build, write and test their ideas on stage as part of the ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ extracurricular club.

Teachers, stepping in as coaches, show the students how to cut materials like pipe, measure the pieces and adhesives, then use it to build mechanical devices.

What makes this club stand apart, is the adults cannot interfere with the student’s design and execution once it’s time to compete. Using a prompt from judges, competitors put their artistic skills up to the challenge.

“Even within our team dynamic of seven kids, what one kid thrives in creativity, another kid has a strength in another way,” Innovation Academy teacher and O.M. coach Cori Friezen said.

“You’re gonna see something that looks very disjointed, that looks very confusing on the outside, but they’re all working creatively to solve this one problem.”

“We try not to go too fast but not too slow,” 5th grader and team leader Lily Poyas said. “It’s normal conversations, but we don’t want to take too much time… they take way points if we go over time.”

For this year’s creation in OM’s World Finals competition, the Innovation Academy club came up with their own theatrical re-imagining of Homer’s Iliad; complete with a Trojan-horse ice cream truck.

This concept helped the Innovation Academy team place in the top 5 in their division at the OM World Finals in Michigan this past May.

Coach Friezen said when the kids first made a decision to stick to this theme, she wasn’t exactly sure how they’d bring their designs and characters to life. “Oh, OK, that’ll be fun,” she said she thought, “but then they just build on it… and then you see their ideas and you see their vision start coming to life and you’re just blown away.”

The trip gave each kid a chance to shine and to see their peers roll out some impressive creations. Poyas said she enjoyed adding more OM pins to her trading collection. Her mom and the IA coaches said the students have also relished the experience going to compete at colleges, where some day they hope to put those critical thinking skills to great use.