Mineola Middle School students on Wednesday were taught key concepts of bridge construction at an event with the Long Island Rail Road Expansion Project Management Team. Students were given Play-Doh and toothpicks, and received step-by-step instruction on how to make a Warren Truss Bridge. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Mineola Middle School students got a taste of what it takes to be a bridge engineer at an event with the Long Island Rail Road Expansion Project Management Team, where the scholars were taught key concepts of bridge construction, teamwork and communication.

As part of a STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — Day event, more than 200 students participated in workshops over two days, during which members of the LIRR expansion team gave a presentation on the $2.6 billion Third Track project. After the presentation, students were given Play-Doh and toothpicks, followed by step-by-step instruction on how to make a truss bridge, which incorporates equilateral triangles to spread out the loads on the bridge.

The Third Track project aims to construct a 10-mile third track between Floral Park and Hicksville — all on LIRR property. Officials say the project will be complete by the end of the year. With the recent replacement of the Denton Avenue Bridge in Garden City earlier this month, which is about two miles from the school, the opportunity to visit the students was timely.

“Through STEM we’re just trying to explain this massive project that affects this community and really find our future engineers and project managers through explaining what a massive mega project is on Long Island,” said Anthony Tufano, an LIRR Expansion Project executive. “Usually when we talk about construction we’re not talking to kids, to expose them to this, it’s terrific.”

Even before the lesson, 11-year-old Michael “Mikey” Gaylor said he wanted to be an architect or engineer, but was motivated after hearing from professionals in the field.

“It was really cool because I got to see people who actually had experience with building bridges and do it as like their job,” Michael said.

After the bridges were built, students attached a cup to the structure and placed marbles in the cup to assess the durability of their creation. Michael’s team's bridge held up to seven marbles.

“We tried to cooperate as best as possible and we ended up getting a pretty good bridge,” Michael said. “We got a strategy and it worked out.”

His classmate, Bridgette Fischer, 10, said she and her family used bridges often, during vacations or visits to New York City. She worked with her group to stabilize the bridge and, after several attempts, they created a bridge that held up to nine marbles.

“It was kind of tricky at first, but it got easier after a few attempts,” Bridgette said. “It was a nice activity to do.”

Though the project was fun for Bridgette, she said she still wanted to pursue her first career choice.

“I’m still focusing on the one I want to be, a teacher," she said. 

Mineola Middle School Principal Amy Trojanowski says the school prioritizes experiential learning and community partnerships for the benefits of the students.

“I think they did a really great job collaborating with one another, problem solving, some of them even learned what it means to be an engineer, which may not have been on their radar before and it would be an awesome career for them to explore in the future,” Trojanowski said about the fifth-graders.

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