As Printed in the Fairfield Minuteman

McKinley Elementary School Takes 3rd Place in State Odyssey of the Mind Competition


Fairfield, CT- McKinley Elementary School is often scrutinized by town and state officials for its “too diverse” student population and lower test scores that are part and parcel of having a larger ELL (English Language Learner) population than the other Fairfield elementary schools. But those families in the McKinley community know that research has shown that our students catch up in time and instead choose to celebrate and embrace our diversity! After this weekend, McKinley Elementary School, true to their “We are Family” motto, has even more to celebrate. 

Saturday, March 21st marked the 34th annual Connecticut Odyssey of the Mind (OOTM) State Competition held at Southern Connecticut State University. Under the guidance of Suzanne Graceffa, this year’s OOTM Coordinator, McKinley sent three teams to the State Final in the Division 1 competition (3rd-5th grade), funded by a $500 PTA grant and participating parent contributions. After participating in both a “Spontaneous” and “Long-Term Problem,” McKinley’s oldest team came in 3rd Place out of a pool of 17 statewide elementary teams, narrowly missing a 2nd Place spot for the World Competition held in Michigan by less than 3 points! They beat teams from New Canaan, Greenwich, Newtown, Ridgefield, Weston, Danbury and more—the well-esteemed competition was certainly a testament to their intellectual and creative strength!

This team, self-titled “The Cerebellum McKBrainiacs,” was made up of 5th graders, Colman Connolly, Sebastian Rodriguez, Zoe Steelman, and Morgan Sylvia, as well as 4th grader, Violet Diaz. Their team coach was Sally Connolly, a speech pathologist, traditional Irish musician, and mother of four. The students’ backgrounds range from Puerto Rican, Vietnamese-Canadian, Irish, and European-descended American bloodlines, exemplifying McKinley’s diversity. From a choice of five problems, the team chose a technical vehicle problem in which they designed and built spring-loaded and magnetic vehicles which completed a variety of obstacles within the context of a student-authored humorous performance to comply with strict problem specifications. Unlike many school projects, the students were required to complete the tasks with NO outside assistance from their parents or coach!

Odyssey of the Mind was brought to the school just last year by mother of three and current McKinley PTA President, Angi Pechman, who seized the opportunity to bring a STEM-based learning opportunity into our community. OOTM is defined on its website as “an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.” 

McKinley is so proud of the successful completion of all of their three team’s problems and encourages more families and schools to get involved in this unique program. More information can be found on and