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Feature Stories April 17, 2014  RSS feed

Building Bridges To Higher Learning

Ridgewood High School Students Take Science To New Levels
by Noah Zuss


Some of the members of Grover Cleveland High School’s bridge building club are pictured above with teacher Lloyd Kiefer. Some of the members of Grover Cleveland High School’s bridge building club are pictured above with teacher Lloyd Kiefer. Students from Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood competed in the Regional Bridge Building Competition Saturday Apr. 5, and 11th-grader Arafath Hussain took home the first place prize for his entry.

The regional meet was held at John Bowne High School, with top finishers moving on to the international competition held in Chicago.

Hussain will travel to Chicago with bridge building coach and science teacher Lloyd Kiefer. The international competition will be held at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Saturday, May 10.

On a recent visit to the school, the students were asked to come to the principal’s office––to receive accolades, not punishment––from principal Denise Vittor.

“You’ve taken a big idea and made it real,” she told the club. “I commend you.

Hussain, from Bangladesh, has only been in th United States for a year, works 2-3 days a week at Dunkin Donuts and still has time to devote hours to academics and club activities.

To Hussain, the competition could serve as preparation for a career in science, technology or engineering.

Looking to the future and thinking of the things he has learned along the way Hussain said of the process, “i’ts gonna help me with thinking about structures, design and physics.”

Kiefer also sees the club as building skills students will use for the rest of their lives, both in college and in the workplace.

“It teaches them to deal with any problem in their career,” Kiefer said. “What I like about bridge building is it goes beyond testing,” he added.

“I’m very proud of these kids because despite their many daily struggles and responsibilities they manage create new ideas and overcome difficulties,” he said.

The bridges are all made of bass wood and glued together, then they are tested with weights to determine efficiency.

Hussain’s bridge withstood 3,280 times its own weight, earning him first place among New York City entrants.

Hussain has benefited in other ways from the club as well.

“It helped me to learn a bit more English and make friends,” he said.

“It teaches them social skills,” Kiefer said.

One student, Alex, in 10th-grade also sees the club as a way to build relationships while pursuing a passion for science and engineering.

“You do learn about teamwork. We give each other encouragement,” he said. “But it’s not all serious work.”

Alex enjoyed “learning more about engineering,” and entered the club because “I’m fascinated by engineering since I was a little kid,” he said.

The students n the club must show patience and dedication to the finish, sometimes staying at school until 8 p.m. according to Keifer.

“The more work you put into the bridge, the more it pays off,” said sebastian a 9th-grader in the club.

And Alex agrees, “it takes a lot of patience to make,” he said.

One senior, Richa, that entered the competition “was planning to be an architect,” and has been accepted to the New York City Technical College in downtown Brooklyn where she plans to pursue her passion for architecture.

Kiefer, an Earth Science teacher at the school, has seen improvement from students in the club in overall school performance and attendance as well.

“Their motivation in other subjects has increased,” he said. “It’s important because it results in increased grades, attendance and graduation rates and makes them aware of the all opportunities available,” Kiefer said.

Again, Alex agrees and thinks the club has helped him learn to multitask.

“I got to learn hot to juggle multiple things,” he said.

Kiefer also believes it can build the students confidence by giving the kids “a chance to excel at something.”

On the last Friday before spring vacation Hussain was already hard at work drawing up plans for his international competition entry. He could be seen in the back of the classroom, elbows resting on a science lab table ready to draw his next bridge and eventually build it into a reality.

In Chicago he will compete with students from around the country and the globe, but he starts the process the same way as always, just as he began the first time and again on Friday afternoon when he said to sum up his process succinctly, “I draw, then I build.”