Beckley Stratton Middle School students learn basics of bridge building

Published by The Register-Herald on September 26, 2018

While walking along the gray-tiled hallway Tuesday at Beckley Stratton Middle School, you could here the hustle and bustle of Deborah Jackson’s sixth grade science class in the school’s media center, working in pairs to build the next big bridge infrastructure in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH), in collaboration with Marshall University, attended the school to prepare students for the West Virginia Bridge Design & Build Contest’s statewide Contest Qualifying Round set to end in March. If students rank in the top, they’ll get to participate in the Statewide Contest in May at Marshall University where they will build an actual balsa bridge.

According to Jackson, the idea to have her students participate in the contest came about when the school’s principal, Yahon Smith, approached her with the idea.

“He told me he really wanted our kids to participate in some sort of contest like this. I told him I’d look into it,” she said. “Then, I made contacts.”

Upon contacting the WVDOH, Jackson was told by officials no other teacher in the state had signed their students up for the competition yet. She said Tuesday’s bridge-building workshop at the school was the statewide kick-off for the upcoming competition.

Two individuals for WVDOH helped teach students during the workshop to use the competition’s blueprint software so they could begin learning how to layout their bridges. According to Jackson, it teaches students to use out-of-the-box thinking, learn spacial recognition and how to calculate cost.

“We try to make our kids excel here at this school, we want them to be the very best. This is a way of doing that,” she said.

After teaming up in teams of two, Mike Adkins, WVDOH’s Regional Program Manager, began helping students understand the software’s techniques. He added helping them shape the outline of the bridge will get them more excited for the competition.

“This gets them to concentrate, it helps them build skills,” he said. “As we ease them into this, and let them practice this, they’ll have a better understanding of how to build the best bridge.”

Two sixth grade students, Ethan and Shayleigh, who dubbed their team name “SE Builders” worked diligently on their computer screen while being very particular on how they set up their bridge.

For Shayleigh, laying out the blueprint was the easy part. She said she was a little nervous to actually build her bridge when the time comes, if they make it to the final competition.

The teams who make it to the statewide finals will receive a balsa wood kit to construct a bridge and bring to the finals, which must be able to carry a given load from a roadway across a river.

“It’s definitely something fun, but also a little hard,” Shayleigh explained.

Ethan added it was also a little difficult for him, but working through the difficulties is something he enjoys.

“We’re just starting out and just learning to get the hang of the software, but I really like seeing all the different techniques and ways you can design a bridge,” he said.

Jennifer Dooley, WVDOH’s educational outreach specialist, also assisted in helping the students learn how to take on the software. She stressed that although the competition in itself is interesting for the kids, it’s really all about showing them what jobs are available for them in the state.

“The main thing here is to let them know that they don’t have to leave their state to achieve their dreams. There are engineering jobs here, all of that can be available here,” Dooley said. “The competition is wonderful, but I think that’s the main thing were trying to get them to understand.

“You don’t have to leave home to get a good job.”