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Farmington students contributed to 35W bridge

A group of Farmington Middle School East students had a hand in the newly-opened I 35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis.

Last spring, the students -- last year's fifth grade class from North Trail Elementary School -- made decorative mosaic tiles for the bridge's Second Street underpass. On Monday, they boarded school buses and went to Minneapolis to view their handiwork.

In the process, they had a little reunion with elementary school friends and teachers.

The five NTES classes were among 70 classes statewide invited to participate in the education program, Casting the Future, offered through the bridge's contractor, FIGG, Flatiron-Manson.

The bridge education program was developed by FIGG president, Linda Figg. According to FIGG bridge construction quality assurance engineer Thomas Jenkins Jr., Figg's plan was simple --to teach them about all of the things that go into planning and constructing a major bridge. The hard work was left to the professionals, but Figg wanted to give kids something they could show off, too.

"(Linda Figg) decided to do this and have the children make these tiles so they could come back with their grandchildren someday and say, 'Hey, I had a part in helping rebuild the I 35W bridge,'" Jenkins said.

Making connections

The 35W bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007. It was a time many adults remember, but the students were on summer vacation. A few knew someone -- a neighbor or family member -- who shared stories about being near the bridge that day. But the collapse did not affect any of them personally, said NTES fifth grade teacher Brenda Gerster.

But then one day last spring, superintendent Brad Meeks told NTES principal Steven Geis about a program where kids could make tiles for the bridge and learn a little about what goes into building a resilient structure to stand the test of time. Geis passed it along to the teachers, who were certainly interested.

Before bringing students into the picture, the teachers met with program organizers to learn a little about the curriculum. When they left, teachers were given boxed kits to bring back to the classroom to start preparing students for their involvement.

The kits, Gerster said, had supplies to make six types of bridges out of playing cards, which students did in the classrooms. The kits also included history on bridges, information on the different types of bridges and a history of concrete.

May 23, 2008

On May 23, the then-fifth grade students boarded buses and headed for the Shosten Learning Center, where the FIGG engineers gave a short presentation to explain the design and construction of the 35W bridge. They talked about the roles of everyone working on the project, as well as the basics of concrete and the use of sustainable materials.

Before students started on the tiles, Amy Barrett of Flatiron-Manson talked about the importance of safety, explaining in detail the protective gear construction workers wear on site. Once safety was covered, students put on gloves, safety glasses and aprons, and went to work.

After a short demonstration by Cemstone representatives, the students began making their 16x6x1-inch mosaic tiles. The tiles were made with concrete and blue, green and yellow recycled glass chips. The concrete was poured into each student's mold. They then used tools to push the concrete into the mold and fill the corners, t hen scrape the excess concrete off the top. Once the mold hardened a bit, the students wrote their names on the back of their tiles.

Next they set to work cleaning up the tiles, using scrub brushes and water to make the colors of the tiles pop out and shine.

Finally, before returning to North Trail, the students were taken on a personal tour of the bridge construction site. Watching from the nearby 10th Avenue bridge, they were able to see the 35W construction and put some of their classroom education into perspective.

"It was one of the best field trips I have ever been on," Gerster said.

Sept. 29, 2008

The five North Trail Elementary fifth grade teachers started Monday in the halls of Farmington Middle School East, class lists in hand, collecting field trip permission slips and giving out welcoming smiles to their former students.

There were a lot of hugs that morning, not just students greeting their former teachers, but last year's classmates getting reacquainted. Now that they're all in the middle school, the NTES students do not see each other daily as they did last year.

Monday's field trip was the highlight of the program for the kids. They were reunited with some of their classmates and their old teachers and they were able to see where their tiles have been placed.

Current sixth graders Amber Doyle and Becca Leubner agreed seeing the tiles -- even if they couldn't tell which ones they had made -- was the coolest part of the whole program, and the reason was simple:

"Because we made them, and they'll be there for many years," explained Doyle.

The rest of Monday's field trip also ranked high with the students. They liked seeing the completed bridge, especially after their previous trip to Minneapolis.

"It was cool to watch the bridge construction," said Leubner, "but it was better to see it done."

The students did enjoy the perks to being from North Trail and being able to go on a field trip while their FMS East classmates stayed behind.

"They're like, 'That's not fair,'" said Doyle. "Well, you should have gone to North Trail."