November 27, 2014
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Building bridges with the RI Mentoring Partnership
WORTH THE WEIGHT: The winning bridge, made by Cassidy Barker, 9, and her teammate, Sidney, 7, a first grader, sustained 82 pounds of weight. Commanding Officer Will Smith marvels at the strength of the Popsicle stick structure.

“It’s fun building stuff,” said Cassidy Barker, 9, a third grader at Randall Holden Elementary School who took part in Thursday’s Bridge Building Competition at the U.S. Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit on Metro Center Boulevard.

Cassidy and her teammate, Sidney, 7, a first grader, were the top winners, as their Popsicle stick bridge, “Spider Web,” named after the massive amount of dental floss they used to hold it together, sustained 82 pounds of weight.

The event was in conjunction with the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, a non-profit organization that pairs more than 5,500 students statewide with adults who aim to be positive role models for children. The two agencies have been working together for nearly 20 years and created the contest more than 12 years ago. The school has been a participant for just as long.

Cassidy and Sidney, along with nine other mentees through the Partnership, were split up into six teams, with each team having two mentors. Among the mentors were Coast Guard staff members, including mentors of the winning team, LT Steve Blum and LT Maile Tesler.

While Blum is already a mentor, Tesler said she plans to sign up soon in order to connect with the community. She said she enjoys spending time with children.

“We get stationed in different places, so this is a good way to get involved,” Tesler said.

For the contest, every team was given simple and inexpensive materials such as 200 Popsicle sticks, a package of dental floss, a hot glue gun and enough glue to create stable structures by applying engineering principles.

It was required that each bridge be two feet long, four inches wide and have a space in the center for weights to be hung. From there, they were given an hour and 45 minutes to design and build their bridges. When finished, the competitors gathered to test the strength of every bridge.

Second place winners, second graders Jaelyn-Rose Cartagena, 7, and Bryan, 8, said they had a good time building not only the bridge, which held 70 pounds and had a haunted house theme with it’s “scary eyes,” but also a stronger friendship.

“It’s fun teaming up and working together,” Bryan said, as Partnership CEO Arlene McNulty smiled at his efforts.

After the event, LTJG Keely Higbie of the Coast Guard, who has been Jaelyn’s mentor for nearly four months, said, “It was fun for me to be part of something like that because when I was in school, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor growing up and I can honestly say it had an impact on me. It’s great to see that again.”

Technical Director of the Civil Engineering Unit, Al Jacobs, spoke to the other end of the spectrum.

“Through school and even college, I didn’t have the chance to have a mentor,” he said. “Seeing this is amazing.”

They also said they hope the contest “plants a seed” in the minds of students so they look into being engineers or architects someday. Commanding Officer Will Smith agreed.

“This is our annual way to try to introduce some of the students to engineering and architecture,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can get them excited about technical fields. You want to get that started in elementary school.”

But what’s the most interesting part of the contest? Seeing the children’s unique creations.

“No two bridges are the same,” said Smith.

According to the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership website at mentorRI.org, children who have mentors are 46 percent less likely to begin using drugs; 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol; 53 percent less likely to skip school; and 33 percent less likely to engage in violence.


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