From left, Ladera Elementary 5th graders Matthew Farnsworth, Brenden Johnson and Caleb Klitzke brainstorm during a challenge on Tuesday at the NW Regional
From left, Ladera Elementary 5th graders Matthew Farnsworth, Brenden Johnson and Caleb Klitzke brainstorm during a challenge on Tuesday at the NW Regional Destination Imagination Tournament at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer /The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — San Juan County has become a driving force for the Destination Imagination student enrichment program, prompting a new regional tournament to see which students can compete at the state level.

Students from Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington school districts filled the McGee Park Convention Center Tuesday for the first "NW Regional Destination Imagination Tournament" to test their creativity, teamwork and ability to improvise in team challenges.

Organizer Emily Foose, principal at Animas Elementary School in Farmington, said about 40 percent of the teams at last year's New Mexico Destination Imagination Tournament were from San Juan County.

By hosting a regional tournament, more teams from the area will have an opportunity to compete as the program grows in popularity. Foose estimated about 200 students grouped into 37 teams were participating in the tournament.

This year's state tournament is in Albuquerque on April 12.

"Because we are closer to home, it's more affordable for teams to participate and get the experience," Foose said. "I think (Destination Imagination) provides a unique opportunity that no other enrichment program provides. An opportunity to be creative and solve problems in a teamwork setting, all at the same time."

The teams of students participated in two categories of challenges — instant challenges where students tackle a problem unprepared and a team challenge where students present a project they've been working on for weeks before the regional competition.

The "Metal Majors" team from Ladera Elementary School in Farmington participated in a challenge titled "Dig In!" where they designed and built a tool to detect a magnetic object in a box and then extract it using the same tool.

5th-grade Ladera Elementary student LeAnn Carpenter, 10, left, and her mother, Crickitt Carpenter work on a  team challenge on Tuesday at the NW Regional
5th-grade Ladera Elementary student LeAnn Carpenter, 10, left, and her mother, Crickitt Carpenter work on a team challenge on Tuesday at the NW Regional Destination Imagination Tournament at McGee Park in Farmington. (Megan Farmer /The Daily Times)

Ryan Chang and Linique Bouwer of "Metal Majors" said they were able to construct a tool using a magnet, a pair of pliers, tape and a stick to find and remove 10 metallic objects from 16 boxes in the exercise.

Chang said the group was able to find all the objects but one. Bouwer said the team has some issues to overcome if they compete at the state tournament.

"We should probably practice more before we go there and try different methods to see which worked the best," Bouwer said. "Problem solving and working together was our biggest problem."

Sophomore Lauren Hopper was a member of the Aztec High School "Do or DI of the Tiger" team who competed in a challenge to create an original five-minute improvised skit involving a profession from the past and a contemporary profession, such as a lawyer.

"You learn to think creatively and read through the rules," Hopper said. "We read through the rules and found little holes that we can work around."

Foose said she is excited to see the program grow and watch students provide unique solutions to the challenges.

"My absolute favorite part of Destination Imagination is 100 percent of the solutions are student-driven," Foose said. "I think when students have an opportunity to feel successful in their own ideas, not somebody else's ideas, that's empowering."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.