Students test their cantilever stylin’

Sarah Stujenske, 13, center, fellow Yucca Junior High Student Jessica Gordon, 13, right, and Gattis Junior High Student Alysha Salguero, 12, left, work on a cantilever during a project Wednesday at Marshall Junior High School. Photo: Eric Kluth.

By Sue Gilmore

Laughter and excited conversation split the after-school quiet Wednesday at Marshall Junior High School.
But it wasn’t a sports event, cheerleading contest or pep rally that generated such enthusiasm — it was a building project involving a group of gifted students from Marshall, Yucca and Gattis Junior High Schools.
The goal: Building a cantilevered structure.
The setting: The cafeteria’s lunch tables.
The materials: Modeling clay and toothpicks.
The time: 20 minutes.
Patricia Thomas, who teaches gifted and talented education at Marshall, said cantilever structures have historically been used in bridge construction. The structures have self-supporting arms anchored at and reaching toward each other from the ends; they then meet in the middle of the span and are connected together.
Thomas said the students enjoy creative, problem-solving activities such as cantilever building, and the program’s ultimate goal is to prepare them to take the SAT before leaving high school.
“These kids are used to ‘thinking out of the box’ on a regular basis,” she said. “Doing something like this, they all get to work together. It’s really an exercise in cooperation and a chance to be with their intellectual peers. That’s important.”
Wednesday’s exercise was part of an ongoing series of cooperative projects involving gifted students from all three of Clovis’ junior high schools. Marshall had nine students participating, while Yucca and Gattis sent six and 10 students, respectively, to the competition.
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, the cantilever has been commonly used to build bridges of unusual lengths.
The cantilevered Forth Bridge built in Scotland in 1890 was the first major structure built entirely of steel, the material that made possible its two record-setting spans of 1,710 ft. each.
They remained the longest in existence until 1917, when a bridge was built over the St. Lawrence River at Quebec. It has a 1,800-ft. span.
The longest cantilever bridge in the United States is the Commodore John Barry Bridge in Chester, Pa., which has a 1,644-ft. span.
While the cantilevers constructed at Marshall didn’t reach quite that long, the winning team of Yucca students managed to get their one-armed structure to reach a respectable score of 50 points. Each team scored one point for every quarter-inch the structure extended beyond a tape boundary line inside the table edge.
Team members Rourke Blake, Zach Gillooly, Alicia Archangel and Kayla Merritt seemed very pleased to have won the contest, although their estimates varied on how long it took to achieve the winning structure.
“We were done in 30 seconds,” laughed Archangel.
“Honestly, it took us two minutes,” countered Merritt.
“Even though the winners get a cash prize, they all seem to enjoy it. This is good for them,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a Clovis native, has an extensive educational background including two Fulbright scholarships, teaching for one year in Bulgaria and another two years in Russia.
At Marshall, she is now teaching Latin vocabulary and ancient Greek to her gifted students. As part of that process, the group’s next event will be a ‘Toga Bowl’ at Gattis Junior High School in late November.
“That will be a little different,” Thomas said. “The students will make their own costumes and decorations built on a character from Greek or Roman mythology. They’ll also have to make up about 30 questions and write the answers for another part of the competition. The best questions will be included.”
The kids, though, seemed more interested in the costumes, as that was the topic of discussion among several of them as soon as the cantilever competition was finished.