San Diego Destination Imagination team headed to virtual global tournament

Melissa Cantu Trevino
Alice Echo News Journal
Destination Imagination team DI Big Brains advance to global competition. Students are Mario Barrera, Jonathan Ruvalcaba, Alvaro Tunchez, Allie Trigo, Ariana Casas, Trysta Contreras and Allison Maldonado.

SAN DIEGO - A group of talented sixth grade Bernarda Jaime Junior High students have made Destination Imagination (DI) history for their school district.

The DI Big Brains are the first DI team to advance to the DI global tournament for San Diego Independent School District. This year, due to COVID-19, they will participate in the tournament virtually, just like they did regionals and state tournaments.

DI is a problem-solving organization where students, from all over the world, show off their creativity and talent. Students must make and design their own scripts, props and costumes without adult interference. Students use boxes, fabric, duct tape and paint, for example, to make their props and costumes. Students pick a theme approved by DI instructors. DI is more than students having fun. They must use their math, science and critical thinking skills to solve problems.

The team is made up of Mario Barrera, Jonathan Ruvalcaba, Alvaro Tunchez, Allie Trigo, Ariana Casas, Trysta Contreras and Allison Maldonado. The sponsors are Dr. Ruben Pena, Yovanna Pena and Gutierrez.

"It's been different. This year, because of the pandemic, everything was virtual. So teams, nationwide and now globally will receive their challenge on a Friday, work on over a weekend and turn it in the following Monday," Pena said. "No kid could be in the same room. You had to be on a meet or a zoom and every kid had their own window. You could not be together on the instant challenge. On regular improv challenge they had the option of being together. We decided to be together. We did it with masks on and following safety guidelines.”

The team has DI experience, but this is the first year they worked together.

"At state, they came back with a vengeance. They got fourth at state and even beat the team who took first place at regionals," Pena added. "They are the first San Diego DI team to place at state and first DI team from San Diego to go on to globals."

There's plenty of tiring and frustrating times but in the end the hard work makes it all worth it. They practiced “all the time even on Saturdays” or during school breaks.

"No, it's not always fun," the group agreed.

They researched elements and possible challenge scenarios. It's hard for the team to practice because students are in many school and extracurricular activities.

"The creativity interested me in DI. Just having an idea and getting to do something creative and compete against other people and seeing their creativity. That's what really pulled me into DI. I can actually be really creative and very talkative. I didn't know that I had such a creative mind," Trigo said.

"It's a very good experience - to just express everything you have. It's a good activity where we learn about what kind of skills we have. We set goals and get them done," Tunchez said.  

The team sets goals, works together by taking everyone's ideas into consideration to complete their task. They take these learned skills and research to compete against other area teams.

At regionals this year, there were 12 teams in the regional improv challenge, but 55 total teams. At state, there was 600 teams participating, Pena said.

"It felt exciting and crazy we we learned we were going to state. I genuinely thought it was a dream. I thought there's no way. We had never been to state before," Trigo said.

San Diego ISD has had a DI program since 2013 under the leadership of Catarino Rodriguez. He started the program with one team of third graders. Every year, the program grows and flourishes especially for the students who participate.

Pena is no stranger to the global tournament. This will be his third time taking a team to globals. He took an Alice ISD team, chapter school in Austin team and, now, the DI Big Brains from San Diego ISD.

Global challenge will be released on Friday, June 4 and will be required to turn in on Monday, June 7. This year, instead of being in a gym or auditorium waiting for results, the team and their sponsors will be at their home “anxiously” waiting for results on their performances.