Bridge Builders: Booneville program grows in its second year

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

BOONEVILLE – One year after its inception, Booneville Middle School’s bridge building team is sending students to the national competition.
Participants build bridges using balsa wood, Popsicle sticks and glue. They also submit an extensive portfolio explaining their design and the process they used to build their structure.
Three teams in each age division are chosen for nationals based on their portfolios. During the competition, they are also judged on how much weight the bridge can hold relative to its size and on a presentation they make.
Booneville Middle School’s team of eighth-graders Weston Coggin, John Howell and Trevin Moore is currently in Providence, R.I., where they will compete today in the national bridge building competition. They are joined there by four teams of students from the Tupelo Public School District.
Tupelo teams include TMS Bridge Builders (Abigail Grant, Ryan Malone and Saajan Patel), Diamond Pi (Kimya Jamasbi, Ricardo Ungo and Katerina Kushla), Bridge Engineers of Tupelo (James Grant, Josephine Orrick and Luke Tucker) and Tupelo Bruggenbouwers (Caitlin Bailey, Jimmy Stone and Penelope Dao). TMS Bridge Builders are in the seventh- and eighth-grade division with Booneville. Tupelo Bruggenbouwers are in the 11th- and 12th-grade division, and the other two Tupelo teams are in the ninth- and 10th-grade division.
All of the competing teams will earn a top-three spot in the nation.
Booneville Middle Principal Brad Mixon was exposed to the program when he was an assistant principal at Tupelo Middle School and brought it to the school when he came there in July 2011. The school has quickly found success.
“It has been fun,” said Mitzi Cox, an ICT2 teacher at the school and the team’s sponsor. “These are bright kids and creative, and they came up with some awesome designs.”
All of Cox’s eighth-grade students built bridges as part of her class in October. From that group, she surveyed them to see who was interested in doing more and participating in the competition. Those who agreed spent about two hours after school for three days a week between December and mid-February. They used computer programs to design and redesign their bridges, built the structures and completed their extensive portfolios.
“It was appealing just knowing we’d have a chance to compete at a national competition,” said Weston, 14. “We put forth the effort to try to get there.”
The school formed three teams. Other participating students include Emma Grace McGrew, Bailey Church, Abbie Gamble, Jalen Warren, Max Mauney and Russ Smither.
“It was a lot more complicated than we thought,” said Emma Grace, 13. “There are a lot of things we had to take into consideration, like how to distribute the weight.”
Russ said he particularly enjoyed the hands-on experience.
Mixon noted that the competition exposes the students to many skills: they have to engineer the bridge, write about it and market it to judges.
“They are able to see the fruits of their labor,” he said. “They worked really hard, and they see how it is applied in real life.”
The team received advice and support from local engineers Stuart Moore and Alan Thompson and from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Cox said building a new program has been a challenging process, but she hopes they can benefit from the momentum created this year.
“We hope to continue to grow it,” she said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com