Students Build Bridges to Promising Futures

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OVERLAND PARK, KS-- The great 20th century American novelist, essayist and scholar Ralph Ellison once wrote, "Education is all a matter of building bridges." This week's FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achievers are taking Ellison's wisdom literally. They are getting great knowledge and high honors by building bridges.

Teacher Rick Hetzel makes building very small bridges a very big assignment for students in his drafting class at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. Juniors Michael Navickas and Trey Marx really rose to the challenge this year.

"They really focus on their drawings and different things we do in class," says Hetzel of the two boys. "I kind of see them each day analyzing different things trying to figure them out."

Michael finished first and Trey a very close second in the regional Model Bridge Building Contest for high school students sponsored by the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers in February. With their growing engineering and math knowledge and impressive tenacity, they designed and constructed small spans out of extremely light wood and wood glue to hold remarkable weight.

"It would be really easy to make a really heavy bridge that holds a lot," says Michael. "So the hardest part is having the design and the construction that's lightweight and can still hold a lot. Give your bridge a higher efficiency to place higher."

How well did they do that? Their winning bridges weighed only a half ounce or so but held about 100 pounds -- three thousand times their weight.

"It was amazing, says Trey. "I like to do the hand-on work. It's more fun to be interactive and stuff. It's just a great atmosphere."

Michael and Trey now advance to the National Model Bridge Building Contest in Las Vegas May 5th. And they've been busy designing and constructing new models for that. The boys tested them for us by adding weight to the breaking point -- just like they do in actual competition. Their new models broke on far less weight than Michael and Trey expected-- but they say they learned a lot from that.

"I kind of rushed on building it so might want to try again," says Michael. "Maybe a little different design but constructed better."

"I only had one diagonal which I should have had more and more," says Trey. "That's a major fault."

As champion bridge builders, Michael and Trey are continuing a remarkable tradition and run of success for students at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. Teacher Rick Hetzel's drafting students have won the regional competition 12 consecutive years. And one of his students got a national sixth place finish.

"I think it's trial and error," says Hetzel. "You try to show them some things at the start but then the kids have to put the time in and the effort in and the interest."

Michael and Trey say they may not win in Las Vegas but their awards are in all they gain from the work and the experience getting there. Building bridges to their promising futures.

In the February regional contest, Saint Thomas Aquinas High School had the top six finishers and nine students in the top ten. There were 142 students from 12 area high schools who competed. Seventeen of those students were past or present students from Rick Hetzel's drafting class.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.

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