Specially selected students from Smith’s Hill High have upheld their school’s long history of success at the International Tournament of Minds (TOM) competition, with the fresh perspectives and ideas of the young group scoring big with the judges and securing a positive future of participation in the problem-solving event.
The talented team from the Illawarra academic high school, which was made up of students from Year 7 through to Year 10, travelled to Melbourne to showcase their skills and claim ultimate glory in the Arts division of the challenging competition.
“I think a lot of it was meeting new people in the TOM community,” Year 7 student Leila Miellet said. “It was really about the spirit in a way.
“We put the effort into it and personally that’s what matters most to me, it’s not the winning, it’s the effort we put in and what we got out of it.”
With most aspects of the competition unable to be prepared, the students each have a role to play to ensure the criteria are met and that they are working together to maximise the limited time they have to compose a performance or complete a task.
Pressure was on for the reigning champion school, with Edmund Rice College claiming gold in the social sciences division.
“Our sense of anticipation was built up quite a bit because NSW as a state did really well this year, we had four winners out of eight and we also had quite a few honours,” Year 8 student Adele Martin said.
“We were sitting at the awards ceremony and arts secondary was last so we were just sitting there for a while holding hands and waiting,” Leila said.
They join a long legacy of high achievers from the school: Smith’s Hill has claimed eight international TOM titles across all four categories in the past six years alone, and other accomplishments in the competition stretch back even further.
“We made sure that when we got to state and international and even in regionals to be like, this is a new team, these are new challenges, there is every chance we lose and we can’t take anything for granted,” Year 8 student Harry Rose said.
This year’s TOM coordinator, language teacher Amy Kang, said the fresh faces joining the program each year help bring new ideas and life into the already successful team.
“It’s great, we get fresh perspectives, I think what has happened with some of our other teams is that they started doing things because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ and it was about trying to recycle and reuse what has worked before rather than bringing something new into the mix,” she said.
“I think last year we had a really strong group but I think it had a lot to do with our Year 10s, they were amazing but they’ve all moved on now and I think this was the team that assumed anything would be given to them, they took on every bit of feedback, they worked hard and not for a second did they go ‘well last year won so we’ll win again’.”
It’s a new start for Amy herself, who took on the role solo for the first time, after working with previous coordinator Bryan Cutler since 2018 who has guided the program for more than a decade.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” he said. “I didn’t know Amy at all, and we’ve now developed a strong friendship.”
“Amy is an incredibly giving person, an incredibly generous person, an unbelievably intelligent person but also someone who is not fearful of speaking her mind.”
“Just knowing that from where I started in the program, to where it is now to knowing it is going to another level is just wonderful.”
While some things have changed since Bryan joined the program, like introducing an audition process, he’s also decided to keep some things the same to maximise the benefit and experience for the students.
“Nowadays you don’t have to have kids from different year groups so we could just put seven Year 10s in the team but we choose not to. And I think that’s incredibly valuable for a school to have cross-year pollination,” Bryan said.
“The best thing is that we see the relationships within each team, the older members feel a great sense of responsibility to continue supporting their junior members even when they leave,” Amy said.
And although the accolades and trophies are a fun bonus, those friendships are something that sticks with the students throughout the rest of their school years.
“For me in Year 7 it was also a really good way to get to know people around the school, because even though everyone here is in older years, I didn’t feel that in the competition,” Leila said. “I felt like we were a family and there was no age difference.”