Students show what can be done with spaghetti and hot glue. North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary held a bridge-building contest to welcome elementary students to their future school community. Photo by Nicholas Elbers

Contest bridges the gap with elementary students

By  Nicholas Elbers, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 25, 2022

VANCOUVER -- In the cutthroat world of competitive spaghetti bridge building, all bridges are tested, but none survive.

Students from across the Archdiocese of Vancouver gathered recently in North Vancouver to compete in the first St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School Bridge Building Competition for Catholic elementary schools.

Bridges were judged for their efficiency, height and of course, the amount of the weight they could carry. Teams showed up empty handed and were given a time limit to build a bridge using only hot glue and a set amount of uncooked spaghetti.

For the final test, weights were added one by one as students watched in breathless anticipation of the inevitable moment when gravity won out and their bridge crashed to the ground.

Each team was made of four students divided by grade level into two divisions. The junior division included students from Grades 4 and 5, and the senior division had students from Grades 6 and 7.

The competition was organized by STA biology teacher Nick Appleton. Coming out of the pandemic restrictions, Appleton wanted the event to bring students back together and create a renewed sense of community.

Competitors came from STA feeder schools on the North Shore, as well as from St. Helen’s in Burnaby. By inviting future STA students to compete, organizers hope to instill in students a sense that they belong to their future community, making the transition to high school easier.

Additionally, Appleton organized groups of STA students to go out to elementary schools and mentor the elementary kids in the basics of bridge building. The visits provided future students social connections they can rely on when they get to STA in Grade 8.

“Our bridge-building competition is an opportunity for our senior students to showcase their talent and stretch their leadership skills,” said vice principal Joe Galat.

STEAM- (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) based learning is at the centre of the event, and Galat hopes the participants will come away from the competition with an increased desire to engage with these topics.

According to Appleton, the practical hands-on nature of the competition does a lot to build engagement and spark interest in students.

Like many schools, STA has robust sports programs, but students with non-athletic interests can feel they have few avenues to receive recognition for their accomplishments and skills.

The bridge-building competition is one step toward building spaces for such students to exhibit their potential.

St. Helen’s Junior Team and St. Edmund’s Senior Team A won the awards for best-looking bridges, and the Holy Trinity Grade 5 team and St. Edmund’s Team C won the awards for most efficiently built bridges.

The winner of the overall strongest bridge was the St. Pius X Senior B Team, with a bridge that withstood an impressive 3900 grams.

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